Friday, April 20, 2012

Adoption Reading: Flashback

Lately I've been reading a bit about adoption, for no particular reason except that I've become more aware of some of the issues involved lately, and because an online friend of mine brought her two gorgeous new kids home recently.  I reviewed Baby, We Were Meant for Each Other a while ago, which was an interesting analysis of adoption by someone with a modern parent's viewpoint.

Now, though, I find  myself in the middle of Find a Stranger, Say Goodbye, which I happened into because it's by Lois Lowry and it's an ebook that was available at my library.  Lowry's novels have been reliably awesome kids' and YA books throughout my lifetime (Number the Stars, The Giver, A Summer to Die, even The One Hundredth Thing About Caroline).  It wasn't until I started reading it that I realized it was a novel about adoption.

The most interesting thing I'm finding about it is that it was written in 1978, so the default picture of adoption is incredibly different than the world I understand today.  Everyone is shocked when Natalie wants to find out about her birth mother (who is frequently called her "natural mother").  Her parents are hurt, and many people take it to be an attack on them.

Everyone's speculation is filtered through a cultural lens that's completely different from the one I'm used to.  Admittedly, most people I know have either gone with international adoption or open adoption.  But Natalie's boyfriend asks what she'll think if she finds out that her mother is like Brenda who works at the factory in town--sweet and simple and easy?  Natalie says that that's a terrible thing to say, of course that won't be true.

Then she tries to imagine how someone could give up a baby.  She pictures them coldly saying they don't want her.  She pictures them sobbing when they learn that the husband is dying of a horrible disease and the wife can't care for a child on her own, so they sadly sacrifice the child.  She doesn't seem to picture the obvious situation, where both parents are teenagers.  I assume this is because it's a YA book from 35 years ago, and we still believed that Nice Girls Don't Do That--presumably someone will mention it at some point, but the fact that it hasn't crossed anyone's mind is really telling about the angle of the story.

In a slightly different book, this dating--which takes more subtle forms, too; Natalie's family is kind of perfect, which I think is intended to avoid complicating the issue of why she needs to find her origins--might be off-putting, or at least boring.  But first, I love these pristine YA books from my childhood--Judy Blume and Lois Lowry and how they wrestled with hard issues in a more constrained world.  And second, the introspection really balances out all the external anachronisms.  Sure, no one around her understands why Natalie would care at all who gave birth to her.  But much of her confusion is internal, and I really think that a lot of that is much more personal, and timeless, than you might expect.

It's a short book; I suspect it will take a few hours to read in total, over the week or so I'll be working on it.  It's such an interesting perspective; I think I'll be picking up China Ghosts after this, to follow up on the thread.

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