By Leslie Lindsay
Released just this week, ROCK NEEDS RIVER (Little A, February 5 2019), Vanessa McGrady takes us on a journey through the very open adoption of her daughter, Grace, and what happens when her biological parents need shelter, too.
“How can you repay a priceless debt? When my daughter’s birth parents became homeless, I impulsively invited them to stay with us, without clearly thinking it through. It was wonderful in some ways, terrible in others, and continues to be a roller-coaster of love, truth, and loyalty. This is our story.”
Here, Vanessa McGrady shares her top nine books on adoption. Some are memoir, others poetic; some for children, others written by same-sex partners, and some are down-right humorous. Please join us.
Books on Adoption
By Vanessa McGrady
Every major hero/ine’s journey and epic tale has an adoption component. From Bible stories and Greek myths (adoption worked out well for Moses, not so much for Oedipus) to Star Wars through This Is Us, we humans are obsessed with origin stories. And it’s no wonder: “Where do I come from?” and “Where do I belong?” are questions that confound and comfort us from the time we are tiny until we take our final breath.
Even more specifically, books about adoption give us light and insight into how families are created and what it means to be a family—by blood, by love, and sometimes, the combination of the two.
by Kathleen Silber
The pioneering godmother of the open-adoption movement in the late 1970s and early ‘80s, Silber did ground-shaking work to bring transparency to the adoption process, which ultimately, is better for the mental health of all parties involved. In Dear Birthmother, a primer of sorts, she helps adoptive parents understand the love, humanity and loss intrinsic to placing a child for adoption. I love this book because it shines a light on the much-deserved compassion to these women who give up so much in search of a better life for themselves and their children.
Everything You Ever Wanted
by Jillian Lauren
In this exquisitely written poem of a memoir, Jillian Lauren splays her heart wide open, on every page as she transforms from an addict whose used up most of her luck to a mother whose role requires great stores of grit, determination and love. We’re right there with her as she and her husband decide to adopt a boy from Ethiopia, and we’re along for the bumpy, often painful, occasionally joyful, ride through the challenges of parenting this tiny person who has already lost so much, but has so much to give. Outside of motherhood, she’s so funny and interesting I kind of want to be best friends with her. Not in a weirdo-stalker way, though.
All You Can Ever Know
by Nicole Chung
Born to Korean parents and adopted by white ones, Nicole Chung spent her life wondering about her origins, and feeling slightly out of place in her decidedly non-Asian community. As she searches for and ultimately finds her birth family, we feel her butterflies, her joy, her chagrin, her confusion and disappointment … all of it. This is such a deeply personal book, yet resonates so universally for anyone who has ever asked themselves, “Who am I? No, who am I really?”
God and Jetfire
by Amy Seek
Deciding to place a child for adoption is one of the most excruciating decisions in the human experience. When Amy Seek, a promising architecture student, becomes pregnant, she’s not yet ready to become a parent. But she’s also not ready, completely, to hand over her child to a perfectly lovely family. Her tale of love, heartbreak and acceptance is a reminder to parents and non-parents of all circumstances that there are lots of ways to make a family—and in this case, it was the best, most perfectly imperfect option. I think this is a really important book for everyone in the adoption triad (birth parents, adoptive parents, adoptees) to read, because it really gets up close and uncomfortably personal with the struggle some birth mothers undergo, despite the unlimited love they have for their babies.
Born With Teeth: A Memoir
by Kate Mulgrew
Kate Mulgrew’s ascent to stardom as star of Ryan’s Hope, Star Trek: Voyager and Orange Is the New Black would have read as somewhat of a fairy tale—coming from a large, loving family to the Big City to hone her talent, win roles and find love—except for one decision that would haunt her for most of her adult life. When Mulgrew unexpectedly became pregnant early in her career, she knew that her child would be better off in a home where parents were wanting and waiting for a child. Nuns whisked away her newborn daughter, and it would take deep searching and 22 years to see her again. There are many ways a birth parent-adoptee reunion can go down, but fortunately for Mulgrew and her daughter, Danielle, theirs was all you could hope for, and maybe more.
by Dan Savage
One of the earliest works in the adoption-memoir genre, Dan Savage tells how he and his husband navigated decisions on how to become parents and settled on open adoption. The book follows the harrowing journey of their son’s birth mother, Melissa, a homeless teen-ager who isn’t exactly going to Whole Foods and taking Pregnant Lady Yoga classes. Savage tells the story of their relationship with Melissa with great compassion, love and hope for all involved. This was a hugely important book for me to read, so long ago, because it showed me the complex, imperfect and ultimately loving dynamic involved in parenting through adoption.
by Nia Vardalos
First of all, Nia Vardalos is just hilarious. She could write an Ikea assembly brochure and it would probably be side-splitting. But in the book, she tells about being a rising star (a great story on its own) who had it all – except a baby. After a grueling battle with infertility, she eventually came around to the idea of adoption, and started to learn more about the fost-adopt process of taking an older child who is unlikely to reunite with their original family. With great heart, she tells the roller-coaster story of bringing a 3-year-old with attachment challenges into her life—and the inevitable universality of motherhood. “Nothing prepared me for the live I would feel for my child. Nothing prepared me for how quickly it happened for me. And here’s what I just figure out now: no one is ever prepared. In a way, we’re all instant moms.” She’s just so good.
by Jerry Mahoney
When writer Jerry Mahoney and his husband decided to become parents, they didn’t exactly adopt – but they did become dads to twins with the donation of eggs from Jerry’s sister and a borrowed uterus from a surrogate carrier. This funny, nail-biter of a book brings you along for the ride from hope to dashed dreams and back as Mahoney creates his sweet family with the support of his tribe. I think this is important because it highlights another common but not often-told story of how families are made with the complex weaving of love and biology.
by Don Freeman
This was one of the first books I ever bought my daughter, Grace, shortly after I became her mom through adoption. I’d not picked it up for a good 35 years, and didn’t remember much except for a cute picture of a bear with a wardrobe malfunction. But when I lay down to read Corduroy out loud to Grace, I burst into tears as I realized the great beauty of this simple story. Nobody wanted this little teddy bear, Corduroy, who lived in a department store, because he was missing a button on his overalls. When a little girl, Lisa, sees him on the shelf, she loves him instantly. So much so that the next day, she brings her own money to buy him, bring him home, fix him a little bed next to her own, and yes, sew the button back on his overalls. He’s not perfect, but he’s perfect for her and they belong together. Damn it, I can’t even think about this story without crying. There I go again.
“The love McGrady feels toward Grace, whom she has dedicated the book and her life to, is the sweet layer of frosting on top on a multilayered cake. An expressive and love-filled tale of adoption and of befriending the biological parents of the adopted child.”
For more information, to connect with the author via social media, or to purchase a copy of ROCK NEEDS RIVER, please see:
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Vanessa McGrady was born in Manhattan and raised there and on Washington State’s Olympic Peninsula. She holds a BA from New York University and is a former radio and newspaper journalist, waitress, playwright, actor, bartender, dating service owner, and corporate communications and social media strategist. She writes about personal finance, feminist parenting, and health, and her work has appeared in the New York Times, Oprah.com, Jezebel, Forbes, Refinery29, Bust, and elsewhere. She lives in Los Angeles with her daughter, Grace Magnolia.
You can connect with me, Leslie Lindsay, via these websites:
- Facebook: LeslieLindsayWriter
- Twitter: @LeslieLindsay1
- Instagram: @LeslieLindsay1
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[Cover and author image courtesy of ShreveWilliams and used with permission. Images of adoption book covers retrieved from Amazon on 1.19.19. Artistic photo of cover designed and photographed by L.Lindsay. Follow on Instagram.]