Jun. 22—When a 16-year-old girl named Aspen receives a DNA kit from her best friend, a half teaspoon of saliva is all it takes to discover her whole life has been a lie.
Learning that her late father was not her biological father and that her mother had deceived her starts a roller coaster of emotions as Aspen struggles with her identity, the burden of a new secret and the journey to find her real father.
This is the plot of a new novel-in-verse, "The Complete Book of Aspen," written by Lodi resident Danna Smith.
While the story is a work of fiction, it is inspired by actual events that Smith experienced nearly five years ago that all began with a 23 And Me DNA test during the Christmas holiday.
"My husband brought two self-testing kits home and said 'this could be fun,'" Smith said. "I had never really thought about doing one at the time. But my dad is English, Irish and Greek, and I was curious because I look very Scandinavian and English, and my mom looks very much like me."
So Smith and her husband took the tests. What she would discover would change her life forever: she was not Greek.
Smith thought there must have been a mistake. So she took a second test through Ancestry.com. The result was the same.
Still not convinced of the results, Smith traveled back home to Salt Lake City and asked her father to take a DNA test. The result: he was Greek. She asked her sister to take one. She was Greek as well.
When she confronted her mother about the discrepancy, Smith said she was not happy at all. However, her mother did admit Smith had a brother, and that they knew each other, as they attended the same high school growing up.
"She wanted to protect me as a child, and I don't blame her for that, as a kid," Smith said. "But once I became an adult, now that I'm married and have my own children, I thought I should know. She didn't see it that way."
Ultimately, her mother stopped speaking to her. Soon, feelings such as hatred and despair, which Smith said she had never really had toward anyone before, began to swell up inside her. Smith joined a Facebook support group for people who discover their parents aren't their biological parents, which helped.
But as an author and poet with more than 20 published books under her belt, Smith turned to her writing for therapy.
"It's normal for me to write when I'm upset, or even when I'm happy," she said. "I wrote 10 to 12 poems, and thought this has got to be a book. I know there are people out there who are going through this as well."
But Smith didn't want to write a memoir. Instead, she opted to write a novel-in-verse, a hybrid form in which a narrative with structural and stylistic similarities to a novel is told in the form of poetry.
Not only is the book her first semi-autobiographical, it's her first foray into the young adult genre of fiction. Her previous stories have been board or picture books for children younger than 8 years old.
She's hoping the book, which parallels her journey and her relationship with her mother, will resonate with both children and adults alike.
"It's a young adult novel, but adults are buying it too," she said. "Children are growing up in households where this is a real thing. I know three or four people that this happened to when they were kids where they thought they had this genetic history, and then they're not Greek or English or Irish. It's a huge impact on their lives."
Smith was able to locate her biological father a few years ago. She said the 81-year-old was shocked to hear from her, but he accepted her into his life, as did his wife. Their son — her brother — passed away several years ago, and they have been raising his daughter. Smith said her new niece read the book and could not put it down.
The man Smith knew as her father passed away about the same time Smith met her biological dad, who she calls her "bonus" dad. Smith's mother passed away shortly thereafter. They were able to bury the hatchet, although they never spoke about the DNA test or Smith's biological father.
"I'm in a good place now," Smith said. "I have two fathers. Now I have my bonus dad, who's just caring, kind and accepting, and I have the dad who raised me. I feel blessed. I'm lucky that things turned out the way they did."
"The Complete Book of Aspen" is available wherever books are sold, as well as at www.dannasmithbooks.com.