Before We Were Yours

My story begins on a sweltering August night, in a place I will never set eyes upon.

Adoption isn’t an easy subject, but the historical story line of Before We Were Yours shows at the very least how it definitely shouldn’t be handled.

There are two story tellers in this novel about an “orphanage” that basically stole children from poor people and sold them to rich families. One is the girl and her siblings that go through it, the other connected to her through different generations. This element sometimes makes it a little bit Lifetime-ish, although her motivations for discovering more are at first more political than personal. ie the sob story starts later into the story.

Weaved in between these two is a romance that isn’t quite necessary, but not horribly done either. I feel like the subject is what elevates this novel from being just another one of the paperbacks your gran reads and pushes upon you because it’s “so exciting”. It’s an easy, accessible read, but the horror of the “orphanage” and the reality on which its based, is what gives the story its pull.

Before We Were Yours, Lisa Wingate, Penguin Random House LLC 2017

Little Fires Everywhere

Everyone in Shaker Heights was talking about it that summer: how Isabelle, the last of the Richardson children, had finally gone round the bend and burned the house down.

Writing this review made me feel like reading the book for the second time, consider me a fan of Celeste Ng’s (you pronounce it as ‘ing’) work.

Again it’s a seemingly lovely, decent family of which the image (they project) slowly starts to show cracks. This time it’s literally and figuratively a small town story, and even though something quite big happens, there’s such a subdued, rosy-tinted tone to everything that even the moment when it all boils over, you don’t feel more like a soft ‘huh’. Because it wasn’t inevitable, but mostly because Ng writes in such a way that you’re swaddled, embedded into these lives and can almost feel the possibilities pass left and right. Maybe Izzy (Isabelle) will find her way sooner than later, maybe Mia and daughter Pearl will air out the secrets between them and for once put roots down somewhere. Maybe Mrs. Richardson can become a person again, instead of a connection between others.

So you wait, and hope while things crash and literally burn, while still ending on a high note. Because Celeste Ng is good like that.

Little Fires Everywhere, Celeste Ng, Penguin Publishing 2017

Heft

The first thing you must know about me is that I am colossally fat.

This – from time to time –  felt like a documentary on the people abandoned by society.

Arthur Opp is an morbidly obese man who locked himself up in his own house. Kel Keller is a poor teen on a rich school with an alcoholic for a mother. His mother is the link between them, her letters to Arthur a trigger for changes in both Arthur’s and Kel’s lives.

None of these people are easy to like. Arthur is full of self-pity and navel-staring, Kel keeps so many facades up that he doesn’t recognize himself. It is the side-characters that soften their stories, show that every human suffering is different. And the ending shows that there’s no such thing like a clean ending when social connections are involved.

Heft is a show case of characters.

Heft, Liz Moore, Hutchinson 2012

Y

My life begins at the Y.

Wederom een verhaal over adoptie, net zoals – maar tegelijkertijd heel anders want is elk persoon geen individu – solace of the road.

Hoofdpersoon Lily/Shandi/Shannon wordt bij verschillende gezinnen gezet en elke keer weer ‘ingeleverd’, tot alleenstaande moeder Miranda haar adopteert. Dit is het begin van enige stabiliteit in haar leven, maar het betekent niet dat Shannon gelijk een nestje bouwt en op haar lauweren rust. Marjorie Celona maakt op een oncomfortabele manier duidelijk hoe belangrijk de eerste jaren van een mensenleven zijn. Shannon heeft geen achtergrond en geen wortels, wordt uit haar omgeving gehaald als men vindt dat ze er niet past. Simpele communicatie tussen mensen begrijpt ze niet, wat leidt tot frustratie aan Miranda’s kant en een nog groter gevoel van nergens thuis horen aan de hare.

Tussen Shannon’s verhaal door, is dat van haar moeder geweven. De moeder die haar achterliet op het stoepje van de YMCA omdat ze haar dochter een beter leven gunde. Dit geeft twee keer resultaat: Shannon’s leven wordt misschien nog wel zieliger, want wat voor een achtergrond heeft zo’n meisje – en tegelijkertijd is dit leven misschien wel haar beste kans, ver van de fuck ups die haar ouders waren. Drugs, alcohol, mishandeling, je gunt het geen kind.

Celona kruipt op zo’n manier onder Shannon’s huid dat haar frustraties die van de lezer worden. Waarom past ze niet op deze plek, waarom hebben haar ouders haar achtergelaten, wat moet ze in vredesnaam doen met haar leven? Wanneer ze besluit om de man op te zoeken die haar als eerste en haar moeder als laatste zag, begint het balletje te rollen. Hij laat haar op een andere manier naar haar situatie kijken, geeft haar voorzichtig handvatten.

Het is geen opkikker, dit boek. Wel vol menselijkheid.

Y, Marjorie Celona, Faber and Faber 2013

Why Be Happy When You Can Be Normal

When my mother was angry with me, which was often, she said, ‘The Devil lead us to the wrong crib.’

This was a surprise feminist story. And much more. Winterson admits that she can’t write chronologically, that her pen goes where her mind goes. So this is autobiographical, a story about growing into feminism, a story about adoption and a history shot: the frozen time of the sixties in a place that’s neither North nor South England. Don’t expect any laughs, because it’s a very sad story as well.

Jeanette Winterson is adopted by Ms. Winterson and her husband, a shadowy figure in the back that is never really part of anything. Ms. Winterson is an incredibly angry, joyless person who is waiting for the End of the World to happen. She is continuously disappointed by everything, disapproving and a dark cloud in Jeanette’s life. Even though you try to understand that this is a human being and there will be reasons for the way she is, it’s very easy to cast her as the horrible villain of this story.

Not that there are no other contenders for that spot. Society, the small town they live in and Jeanette herself, struggling with so many thoughts and feelings and always coming back to a point a not-adopted child simply couldn’t recognize as a problem. As a reader you’re ping-ponged between the heavy feelings of ‘why bother’, being unloved and never fitting in. It doesn’t make for a book you want to curl up with for a nice escape.

It makes a book that shows how incredibly important family is, how important the feeling of belonging and having connections are. To this day, Winterson is still working out how love fits into her life, how a healthy relationship should be. A lot of things are said by adoption, but this book gives you the first person view on it.

Why Be Happy When You Can Be Normal, Jeanette Winterson, Cape 2011