The Greatest Gift opens with three different women in three different scenarios: one woman with an unplanned pregnancy, one woman who cannot get pregnant and one woman who is fertile but doesn’t want children. The three different stories about fertility overlap and intertwine until they become one poignant tale.
Johns uses alternating viewpoints to simultaneously tell the stories of a successful radio presenter who magnanimously decides to donate her eggs and a couple, faced with the issue of infertility, who hope embryo donation will help them fulfil their dream of parenthood. This is an interesting comparison. As the characters are developed, the factors behind their choices and experiences are explored and the legal implications for each party are outlined. It is easy to become immersed in the characters’ lives as their respective stories unfold and the emotional investment of both parties grows. The reader is carried along by the complex relationships of the characters, a foray into the world of ballooning and some unexpected twists and turns.
The Greatest Gift is an emotional rollercoaster that is hard to put down. I appreciated the insights into the themes of fertility, infertility, motherhood, parenting, the impact of emotional trauma, prematurity, love and loss. Infertility and prematurity are familiar conceptual terms, but the experience of each of these situations is rarely considered until a person is faced with the actual event. The Greatest Gift gives a basic and realistic insight into these situations, as they arise in the course of the plot.
It is interesting to read the experiences of the donor and the recipient couple simultaneously and the range of reactions from the characters’ families and networks. The gut-wrenching choices and difficult circumstances are well written with some interesting ethical dilemmas thrown in. It is thought provoking, moving, frustrating and enthralling. The mood lifts at the end with a neatly packaged epilogue, which lacks authenticity but gently detaches the reader from the intensity of the story and gives a sense of completion.