Adoption has existed as long as people have. The first story about adoption is in the Bible: the story of Moses, who was adopted into an Egyptian Pharaoh’s family. And didn’t that story have a lot of drama? Every family has its own passions and tumult but adoption is truly born of drama … which makes it ripe for story telling – real or fiction.
Whether written for adults or young readers, such classic stories as Charlotte Brontë’s Jane Eyre (1847), Charles Dickens’s Great Expectations (1861), Johanna Spyri’s Heidi (1881) and Frances Hodgson Burnett’s The Secret Garden (1911) typically portrayed children who became orphaned and fell into terrible circumstances before they were adopted (usually informally) by some kind-hearted relative or stranger.
Contemporary fiction about adoption reflects changing attitudes and practices. Picture books for very young readers like Anne Braff Brodzinsky’s The Mulberry Bird (1986), Janell Cannon’s Stella Luna (1993) and Jamie Lee Curtis’s On the Night You Were Born (1993) literally “paint” stories openly celebrating adoption, even when the “family” is portrayed as animals. The losses that launch adoption journeys are downplayed or omitted.
Today’s adult novels involving adoption propel their stories by delving into the histories and mindsets of the people touched by this life-changing event. Adoptees aren’t necessarily orphaned and characters display a full range of humanity, the good, the bad and the ugly. Loss is faced head on or flows as an undercurrent through the plot. Where the classics tended to be escapist, the moderns tend to be very relatable. They include John Irving’s The Cider House Rules (1985) and Jacquelyn Mitchard’s The Theory of Relativity (2001).
In the past three decades, non-fiction books about adoption have proliferated. Betty Jean Lofton’s Lost and Found (1979) gained a wide audience as the adoptee and psychotherapist advocated change while considering all sides of the adoption triangle: adoptee, birth mother, adoptive parents. Noted sociologist (my cousin) H. David Kirk attained the nickname “the father of adoption sociology” after his groundbreaking book, Shared Fate (1984) brought decades of scientific study about attitudes and outcomes of adoption to the general public. It became a template for many adoption social workers to begin understanding the need for truth in adoption. In the bestselling Adoption Nation (2000), adoptive parent Adam Pertman combined journalistic research and personal anecdotes in an overview of the trends and cultural ramifications of changes sweeping adoption practice. Both disturbing and hopeful, the book’s views come through loud and clear: families should be “out” about their adoptive status, children should be told that they were adopted as early as possible and all members of the adoption “triad” (birth mother, child and parents) should try to stay in close communication.
The person most affected by adoption is the person with no voice: the adoptee. That silence has been shattered by several powerful memoirs by adoptees. These potent accounts can be as hopeful as Marcus Samuelson’s Yes, Chef: A Memoir (2012) or as painful as Ashley Rhodes-Carter’s Three Little Words (2007).
One of the most accessible, well-balanced memoirs of adoption is the recently released You Don’t Look Adopted by award-winning screenwriter Anne Heffron. Five years after her mother died (before finishing the book that would end up favorably reviewed by The New Yorker and The New York Times), three years after getting divorced (for the second time), a year after getting fired (for throwing a pen and crying) and seven months after her daughter left for college (as a D1 athlete), Anne finally had to do what she’d been avoiding her whole life: tell her story. She packed up all her possessions, gave up her life in California, and headed to the place of her birth, New York City, to embark on Write or Die and find out who she really was. What happened in the end was nothing she ever could have predicted.
Book●ed is delighted to celebrate National Adoption Awareness Month by welcoming Anne Heffron with her recently released memoir, You Don’t Look Adopted, to a BOOKS ‘n’ BOTTLES™ fundraiser at Sunset Foods in Northbrook, Illinois. Proceeds from the event will benefit Gift of Adoption – a 2016 recipient of the Congressional Angel in Adoptions Award. The fundraiser will offer books, wine and delectable bites, raffles and much more. A traditional free BOOKS ‘n’ BOTTLES™ wine tasting and book signing will wrap up the season on Monday, November 14th from 6-8 p.m. at TASTE Food & Wine in Chicago. Books will be available at both events from our favorite book store, the Book Bin.