As the month of November was winding down, I was getting increasingly desperate to find something to read that I could finish quickly and get done with the TwentyTen Challenge. Finally, I went over to my shelf of TBR’s, the only category I had left, and decided to pick out the absolute shortest book I could find and read it. That book happened to be a book called something like It’s Not What It Seems or something like that, a book about a brother and sister whose father moves out on their mother to go write the great American novel. They spend their summer opening and running their own restaurant. Anyway, it wasn’t that great a book—obviously if I can’t even remember the title—and I wound up tossing the book in my recycle bin. I went back to the drawing board because I really wouldn’t have much to blog about that book and found Lois Lowry’s Find a Stranger, Say Goodbye. I had a sneaking suspicion I’d have a lot to say about this book, and I think I was right.
(WARNING: This review is downright chock-full of spoilers!)
First, I will offer up the summary from the back of the book:
Natalie has everything—beauty, a loving family, a terrific boyfriend, and an entrance to the college of her choice. But she is haunted by a missing link in her life—who is the mother who gave her up when she was only a few days old?
The summer she is seventeen, Natalie decides to find out who were her natural parents and what has happened to them. Old newspapers and a high school yearbook yield clues that start to unravel the mystery of her past. From a small town in Maine to New York City, Natalie’s search leads to anger, hope, even love—and finally a confrontation with her real mother.
Ok. So of course as an adoptive mother myself, I take issue with the wording that Natalie is off to find her real mother. But seeing as the book was written in 1978, I’m willing to give it a bit of a pass. Although people still ask me if I’ve heard from Leah’s real mother even now, so I guess I’m just the artificial substitute.
Anyway, the book was fairly compelling reading, and I’ve ready many of Lowry’s books in my youth and greatly enjoyed them. I guess this one touched on some of my own fears as an adoptive mother. If you happen to be new to my blog, here’s a picture of me and my precious daughter, Leah:
She’s African-American, and I’m Caucasian. There’s no denying the fact, even if I wanted to, that she’s adopted. (For the record, I wouldn’t want to, I’m proud of the fact that we were chosen to adopt her from all the parents who could have been hers. )
To give credit where credit is due, Lowry’s fictional adoptive parents also make no secret of the fact that their daughter was adopted. When Natalie approaches them to ask if they will give her information to go on her search, they take months to come to terms with the idea that Natalie wants to go in search of her “real mother”. I hope and pray that if Leah comes to me, she doesn’t use that terminology. My husband and I have chosen to have an open relationship with Leah’s birthmother (a phrase which even now, only a year after our adoption has been finalized, is I do believe going out of fashion in favor), and we love her very much, but it would break my heart to hear Leah refer to someone else as her “real mother”. It’s bad enough when other people ask me that question!
Natalie’s parents finally relent, despite the hurt they feel, and provide Natalie with all the documents they have regarding her adoption—basically a letter from an attorney. From that point, Natalie is able to go to the town where she was born and piece together her past.
It does not hurt that Natalie is a spitting image of her birthmother. It does not hurt that this was taking place in the 70’s and Natalie was able to phone people and say, “I’m an old friend of Julie’s! Can you tell me where to get in touch with her?” and she was given tons of information and phone numbers.
What really got me is that Julie, Natalie’s birthmother, is a fashion model who lives in a fabulous home on New York City’s Upper East Side with her husband and two sons. I genuinely would have preferred a book that touched on a more realistic scenario and not one that somehow indicates perhaps that giving up an infant when you are a child yourself will somehow allow you to catapult into a world of wealth and fame. (Props to Lowry for making Julie a pregnant teen—in today’s world of MTV’s Teen Moms, it would be refreshing to see more teens selflessly giving their children a life that ultimately they have little hope of being able to provide during their own adolescence.)
Julie reluctantly agrees to meet Natalie at the Russian Tea Room and attempts to get Natalie to join the world of high fashion modeling. Then abruptly, she stands up and strolls out of their lunch, only to call Natalie the next day and have her over to the house to meet her half brothers.
For all that she wanted to find and all that she did find, Natalie is ultimately glad that her family is her family, but that she did uncover the secrets of her past.
What Leah will discover when she asks us about her own background is very different from Natalie’s discoveries. I hope that like Natalie, Leah will remain true to herself and follow her own dreams, whether they be to know her family of origin or not to, whether they be to have some sort of relationship with her birthmother or not. She will always have me there for her, no matter what she chooses and how it turns out.
Here are a few of my “rules” for people inquiring about our adoption. I hope they come in handy if someone in your life is adopting or has been adopted.
1. Please don’t ask about an adoptee’s “real parents”. As I’ve said before, this is insulting to us. We have bandaged her scrapes, we have gotten up with her every night, we have fed her and clothed her, we’ve tickled her and tucked her in, we’ve hugged and kissed away the tears and aches and pains, and celebrated every milestone in her 19 months with her. To indicate that we are somehow not her “real” parents does us a disservice. In having to defend ourselves about being her “real” parents, we feel we must then do a disservice to the beautiful and brave young woman who made what I can assure you was a heart-breaking choice to ask us to parent her child for her in a way she could not.
2. Please do not ask an adoptee or their family why his/her mother “did not want her.” I can assure you that wanting her never was a factor in the equation. Leah was wanted by her birthmother very much. The reasons she chose to give Leah up for adoption and the reasons she chose us to parent her are intensely personal for her and for us. I can tell you that she loves Leah with every fiber of her being. She did what she felt was best at the time, and it was never an issue of “wanting”. I feel confident that for 99.99999999999999% of birthparents out there, it is the same.
3. Please do not inquire about an adoptee’s family of origin’s background, but if you do, do not expect to get all the minute details. On our part, our families and close friends know as much as we care to share. There are some things I wish I hadn’t shared, I can say honestly. We know as much of the story as Leah’s birthmother chose to share with her, and we shared as much of that with our loved ones as we felt comfortable. It would be unfair to share everything. It is not our story to tell.
4. If you do have information that a family has disclosed to you or that you may have gleaned from other sources somehow, please do not give that information to the adoptee unless asked. Again, using our family as an example, we will let Leah make her own choices about what and how much she wants to know, and she will do it in her own time. She may choose to know everything, she may choose not to know one single thing. It is only right and fair that she should hear it from us and from her birthmother, and from no one else. Even a slip of the tongue could cause unintentional pain if Leah were to overhear words that were unkind, untrue, or she didn’t want to know certain information.
5. Finally, be loud and proud of the adoption, the adoptee, and the adoptive family! Don’t treat the adoptee any differently. Truly no better and no worse. When I look at Leah, I see my daughter. I do believe that when my parents and my husband’s parents look at her, they see their granddaughter. I don’t think she gets any preferential treatment to my nephews or my niece, and I don’t think she is treated less well than they are. This is all I could hope for—her true acceptance into our family. Help make that a reality in your home too! Don’t whisper, “he’s adopted” when you think you’re out of earshot of the adoptive family—it sounds like something you’re ashamed of or something that should be kept quiet or secretive. When you hear others expressing doubt over adoption, share your family’s positive experiences, whether you are an adoptee, you have adopted, or a member of your family has adopted a child.
Ok, stepping off my soapbox now. So I am DONE DONE DONE with the TwentyTen Book Challenge. For the record, here are the books I read and each of the categories they fit into:
13 Little Blue Envelopes by Maureen Johnston
Elsewhere by Gabrielle Zevin
Those Who Save Us by Jenna Blum
Find a Stranger, Say Goodbye by Lois Lowry
New in 2010:
Sizzling Sixteen by Janet Evanovich
Miss Julia Renews Her Vows by Ann B. Ross
Shiny and New:
Olive Kitteridge by Elizabeth Strout
Someday My Prince Will Come by Jerramy Fine
Moloka’i by Alan Brennert
Found II by Davy Rothbart
When Katie Wakes by Connie May Fowler
Leftovers by Laura Weiss
Older Than You:
Valley of the Dolls by Jacqueline Susanne
Galahad at Blandings by P.G. Wodehouse
Secrets from the Vinyl Café by Stuart McLean
Never Change by Elizabeth Berg
“Who Are You Again?”
Confessions of a Jane Austen Addict by Laurie Viera Riegler
The Leisure Seeker by Michael Zadoorian
Up to You!
Crackhouse by Terry Williams
Dear Diary by Lesley Arfin