Imagine growing up thinking you know who your parents are, only to receive an email from a DNA testing site one day that your father has been found.
That's how Paige Meyer, the protagonist of Alison Hammer's new novel
Little Pieces of Me
(William Morrow Paperbacks), discovers that the man who raised her--and who she loves dearly--was not her biological father. What follows is a journey of questioning identity, self-acceptance, and what truly makes a family.
Hammer first imagined the story when a friend confided in her with a similar experience. "My first response as a writer was that it would make an incredible story," said Hammer, who published her first novel,
You and Me and Us
, last year. She became inspired to create her own characters and story influenced by her friend's experience.
Her writing process started with interviewing her friend and others involved to glean the complications at the core. "The idea of identity is such a complex thing," she said. "You grow up your whole life thinking certain things about yourself are fact and when you find out that they're not, it brings other things into question."
Hammer crafted a character whose life--career, relationship, and loss of the father who raised her--is in upheaval. "Her life is already almost unrecognizable, so when my character gets this news, it's the last straw," she said. It is at this point that readers begin to learn the story of her mother, father, and "DNA dad," each of whom get their time in the spotlight during the time period when Paige was conceived.
The author intertwines the story of Paige's discoveries in present time with flashbacks of her conception in 1974 to help both character and reader discover that "identity is made up of a lot of different things and one thing doesn't define us or change who we are," she said. The author also delves into mother-daughter dynamics, and the difficulty children may have in seeing the humanity in their parents.
Hammer, a Jewish Chicagoan, tells a Jewish story, but differentiates her book from many other Jewish books on the market.
"A lot of 'Jewish' books have to do a lot with very Jewish themes, whether it's the Holocaust or a specific Jewish group or event," Hammer said. "One of the things that's unique about
Little Pieces of Me
is it's just about Jewish living. It just shows characters living in the world and being Jewish in the little pieces and parts of their life."
These pieces include the opening scene of the novel, which takes place at a synagogue while chanting the
; references to Jewish sororities, fraternities, and Hillel; and the culmination of the story set on
"A lot of my characters are Jewish because that's who I am and what I know," said Hammer, who credits JUF as "how I've gotten my Jewish community and connection in Chicago." After moving from St. Louis almost 15 years ago, she attended her first JUF LEADS group and has participated in many groups since to foster Jewish connections and conversations.
Her current home of Chicago makes several appearances in the novel, where characters walk down Chicago streets and eat dinner at Windy City restaurants. "I live in the same part of town that my character does, so it's great to put parts of my neighborhood that I know and love into the story," Hammer said.
Little Pieces of Me will be released on April 13 and is available for pre-order and purchase at