Like the other reviewers, I too found this book to be beautifully written and one of the best stories I have read in a long time. It's also one of the few books that have made me tear up--in public no less. The story, at its core, is about love and family and ultimately whether the law could or should define that for us. But this is not a book about legal proceedings or soap box grandstanding. This is about a little girl who is given the chance to be cared for and loved by two committed women.
What makes it such an enjoyable read is the detail the author pays to each of her characters; everyone has a unique personality and character quirks. We're immediately brought into Etoile's world, living with a emotionally abusive mother who chooses to drink over feeding her family, a fisherman father who drowned at sea years earlier, a protective yet morally ambiguous older sister, and a tight-knit French community that would rather gossip about the family than provide support--this is all within the first dozen or so pages. When Etoile is sent to live with her cousin, we see a beautiful progression in the older women from slightly uncomfortable or nervous around Etoile to fully-rounded mothers. None of these character "journeys" are done with heavy-handed blunt descriptions or inner monologues. The reader gleans this all from the actions of the characters; the author is a master of the "show, don't tell" principle.
I can't recommend this book enough, it's a definite keeper and one I will be thinking about for quite awhile