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From The Asian Reporter, V15, #27 (July 5, 2005), page 15.
At Home in this World … a China adoption story
By Jean MacLeod
Illustrations by Qin Su
EMK Press, 2003
Hardcover, 29 pages, $15.95
By Josephine Bridges
Author Jean MacLeod prefaces this story with "An Invitation," a brave retelling of her attempts to put a "relentlessly positive spin" on her daughters’ birth stories and her subsequent commitment to explore "love and loss — the bittersweet feelings that define adoption."
Just as the author grew and learned through the process of writing At Home in this World, so does the narrator, a China adoptee, grow and learn in the process of telling her story.
We don’t know the narrator’s name, but she is a pre-adolescent girl coming to terms with the puzzle of her past. Her words are simple and her voice, even when it seems about to break, is clear and determined. The honesty with which she describes her feelings is nothing short of breathtaking. "I don’t remember my birth parents, but I will always remember the feeling of being alone," she tells readers.
In her attempt to "make sense of why my birth parents would leave me," the narrator arrives at a compassionate conclusion: they must have had "a sad reason of their own not to keep me." She also understands that it wasn’t her fault — "all babies are made to be loved."
This story is full of informed speculation. The narrator wonders if she looks like her birth mother. She knows that her birth parents gave her certain attributes — her particular hair, eyes, and fingers — and it occurs to her that she may be "smart and graceful and good at music because they are too."
Not everything is a mystery. She knows that she cried in the orphanage because there were "so many babies that it was hard for the Ayis to hug and hold and play with all of us." She knows that she learned how to smile in a small farming village where she was placed temporarily with a foster family that had very little, and shared generously. From watching her adoption video, she can tell that she was "a very confused little baby" who looked "a lot more worried than happy."
Slowly the narrator grows less afraid that her new family will "disappear one day, too." Her life expands to include piano and ballet lessons, strawberry ice cream, "a cat and a little sister and two best friends."
Toward the end of her story, the narrator tells us, "I love my parents very much and I wouldn’t want any other family, but I think I will always miss knowing the parents that weren’t mine to keep." Her gentle courage has already made her wise beyond her years.
"What is Your Story?" asks the author in the book’s final section, a sort of how-to guide for adopted children who want to know more about their early lives. "Putting together your own, individual history with bits of details will eventually give you a bigger, clearer picture of yourself," she writes.
Qin Su’s illustrations have a gentle, blurry quality that evokes a world with few absolute answers, many interesting possibilities, and boundless love, a world in which adopted children are welcomed home.