The Other Family

Loretta Nyhan

Lake Union 2020 

Author Loretta Nyhan’s novel, “The Other Family,” pivots around new mainstream themes such alternative medicine (mindfulness), DNA testing, social media as a campaign tool, and online dating. Most entertaining is her depiction of a store that specializes in the sale of wedding dresses for septuagenarians, and even older, women.

The plot focuses on ten-year-old Kylie’s peanut allergy, which has compromised her immune system; she is often too ill to attend school on a regular basis. Her parents, Ally and Matt, who are separated, are desperate to help their child. After multiple tests and visits to specialists and still without a conclusive diagnosis, Ally decides to try alternative medicine. Matt though thinks “systematic desensitization” is a “hoax,” and because it’s not in their insurance network they also must pay out-of-pocket.  

Before starting the alternative treatment, the doctor wants to determine if the illness is genetic, and suggests that Ally have a DNA test.  But Ally is adopted, and from the test results she discovers a new family, much to the vexation of her adopted mother, who fears Ally will love her less.

. . . character-driven story, with funny and loving people . . .

In the meantime, through medication and mindfulness practices, the doctor begins to help Kylie control her own fears — to “calm the dog.”  The concept is that the peanut allergy has made Kylie and her parents so paranoid that they have contributed to the compromised immune system.  After Kylie is able to take control, the doctor would slowly introduce peanuts into her diet. However successful the treatment, Kylie is happier. 

She enjoys the sessions, more so now, that her mother has found a new quirky family who own a bridal shop in nearby city, where her mother, a hair dresser, had taken a part-time job to help pay for medical expenses.   

The novel could be described as sappy and unrealistic, but Nyhan nevertheless has written a heartwarming tale that is also captivating and amusing. It also sheds light on the problems children with allergies face at schools. And this is character-driven story, with funny and loving people who want to help Kylie navigate her treatment.