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The Story Behind the Story of The Complete Book of Aspen

SUMMARY: When Aspen's best friend gives her a DNA test kit, a half teaspoon of spit is all it takes to discover her entire life has been a lie.

The death of Aspen's father breaks her small family. Aspen's mother slips into depression, leaving Aspen and her brother, Cooper, to hold together the broken pieces of their lives. Time, love, and medical attention allow Aspen's mom to heal, and their family begins to find a new normal. But just as the sun starts to peek out from the dark clouds of depression and loss, Aspen and her friend Sophie get the results of their DNA tests.

Learning that her beloved late father was not her biological father—and that her mother had deceived her—ignites a wild storm of emotions. Aspen struggles with her identity and the burden of being the gatekeeper of this closely guarded family secret. When her mother refuses to reveal her biological father's name, Aspen sets out on a courageous journey to find him.

A heartbreakingly hopeful young adult novel told in narrative and creative verse by award-winning author and poet Danna Smith, based on her true DNA experience.


by Danna Smith

Not long ago, my husband handed me a DNA test kit wrapped in a red bow, and said “Merry Christmas!”

I’d never thought about taking a DNA test but agreed learning more about my heritage would be fun. I eagerly sent in my sample and three months later got the shock of my life!

I was devastated to learn that the man who raised me was not my biological father. At first, I was in denial. The test must be wrong, right? It had to be! I ordered another kit, asked my sister to take a test, and visited my 80-year-old dad, who had dementia, to collect his sample.

When the results were in, It was clear that my sister was my half-sister, I shared zero DNA segments with my dad, and my kids were not genetically related to their beloved grandfather.

Believe it or not, the number of people affected similarly by DNA testing is staggering! Like me, millions of people have lived their entire lives in the dark. However, learning the truth is only the tip of the DNA test iceberg.

Sometimes, the way family members react to the news is the most heartbreaking of all. Aunts, uncles, and siblings often refuse to believe reality, and relationships suffer. As for me, my mother was upset with me for uncovering her 55-year secret, and she stopped speaking to me. I understand now that it was her defense mechanism, but the unfair rejection was painful.

My mind reeled from this news that rocked my life's foundation. While I searched for my biological father, I began to write poetry as therapy. One poem turned into two verses, and then three turned into four. That's when I knew I had to write Aspen's story. I am a children's book writer, so it felt natural for me to write the tale from the point of view of a teenager. And to be honest, I wished I had found out I had another dad when I was younger. How would my life have been different? How would I have handled the news?

The Complete Book of Aspen is not a memoir, it is Aspen's story, but the rollercoaster of emotions she feels comes from a very real, very raw place. As one reviewer said, “You want to cheer for Aspen, you want to be her friend and you want to tell her that everything will be ok.”

BIO: Danna Smith is the award-winning author of over twenty books for children, including the starred reviewed and Junior Library Guild selection, The Hawk of the Castle (Candlewick), Arctic White (Henry Holt), a 2017 SCBWI Crystal Kite Award finalist, Swallow the Leader (Clarion), numerous Little Golden Books, Wake Up, Freight Train! (Little Simon, March 2022), One Blue Gnu (Amicus Ink, March 2022), Rooftop Garden (Barefoot Books sing-along, May 2022), The Thank You Book (Little Simon, Oct 2022), and Peek-a-Boo Haiku (Little Simon, 2023). The Complete Book of Aspen is her debut young adult novel based on her true DNA experience.

When Danna was young, a pen was her favorite toy. She grew up weaving words into poems or stories that sparked emotion or curiosity. Today her favorite toy is a keyboard. She is an active member of the Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators. When she's not writing, she's reading, watercolor painting, gardening, and walking on nearby nature trails in the beautiful northern California wine country where she lives.

Enjoy learning more about Danna and The Complete Book of Aspen, through her Q & A here:



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