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OPINION: Sisters? Surrogacy is the conflict in 'The Summer of Broken Things'

Kayla Butts and Avery Armisted couldn't be more different.

Kayla, 16, lives in "Nowheresville" at a nursing home with her hardworking mother and invalid father. She's built like an ox, suited for nothing more extravagant (she believes) than lunch at McDonald's.

Avery, 14, is a long-legged soccer star, cruel with her words, and spoiled. She lives with her wealthy parents near Columbus, Ohio.

In "The Summer of Broken Things," by Margaret Peterson Haddix, Kayla is invited to spend the summer in Spain with Avery and her father.

The tension skyrockets for both teens. And when Avery's birth certificate arrives to expedite the replacement of her missing passport, everything explodes.

In alternating chapters, Kayla and Avery react to the shocking news that Kayla's mom served as a surrogate mother so that Avery could be born — a secret that was never to be revealed.

Avery is appalled that she might be seen as Kayla Butts' sister. As for Kayla, she's angry and mortified that her mother was used by the Armisteds.

But this is only the beginning.

Avery's life continues to tumble, while Kayla's strength surfaces, even as she refuses to read her mother's emails about the circumstances of Avery's birth.

Meanwhile, author Margaret Peterson Haddix weaves in more history — the Holocaust, the Spanish Civil War, and even the memorial to the Madrid train station bombings of March 2004.

Serious issues such as faith and prayer are explored. Yet there's a lightness, too, with the friends Kayla makes (especially the Bulgarian boys) at the summer Spanish language school.

The novel is deservedly long as Peterson explores the difficult growth of connection between the two girls, one that will never quite reach sisterhood. Yet it's incredibly satisfying, especially as Kayla realizes the power of her choices.

"The Summer of Broken Things." By Margaret Peterson Haddix. Simon & Schuster, 2018. 400 pp.

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