Emily Giffin has a wonderful way with words. But her basic math skills are sorely lacking.
The best-selling author, whose latest novel is "Where We Belong" (St. Martin's, $27.99), writes about an adopted 18-year-old who seeks out and meets her birth mother.
Readers quickly learn that the girl, Kirby Rose, was conceived in July 1995, the unexpected result of birth-mom Marian's reckless summer romance.
But wait a minute. July '95? Doesn't that make Kirby 16 instead of 18?
"My husband was the first to catch that," Giffin says. "He said, ‘You've got a problem with your math there, Sweets.' I said, 'What are you talking about?' Because I had worked it out so carefully. But obviously I hadn't.
"It was too late to make all the changes that would make everything square up.
"If only it were 2014. So I'm proposing that everyone reread the book two years from now!"
That said, Giffin's sketchy math is the only flaw in an emotionally powerful story that will ring true with women who have given a child away and with those who grew up wondering where they came from.
"Where We Belong" has been out only a few days, and already the reader feedback has surpassed Giffin's expectations.
"I gave advance copies to very few people," she says. "One reader was a supportive fan from Facebook. After she read it, she wrote back, ‘I am adopted and I recently found my family. I've read all your books, but this one resonates with me the most.'
"I also gave a copy to the receptionist at my kids' school. I didn't know anything about her, whether she was married or whether she's a mother. I just thought she might enjoy reading it.
"I have her note here. It says, ‘Dear Emily, "Where We Belong" is your best yet and, yes, it does reflect my life. The circumstances are dissimilar, but that essence of belonging that you write about is achingly familiar. After I finished reading your book, my daughter read it, too. We now have common ground to talk about what is keeping us from feeling close to each other.'
"I thought I was just giving these two women a nice summer read with a pretty peach cover. I didn't expect ... to provoke such intense reactions."
Giffin, dubbed by Vanity Fair as a "modern-day Jane Austen," may be working with a premise and plot that is fairly simple. But there's nothing lightweight about the emotional turbulence she creates.
"The premise started with a question," Giffin says. "I wondered, ‘What would it be like to have a secret and to keep that secret from everyone for your entire adult life? What would that do to you and to your relationships?' "