The stories in the new YA collection edited by Eric Smith, Welcome Home: An Anthology on Love and Adoption, depict a wide range of characters, storylines, and themes, but most revolve around a common axis: being torn between two decisions, two families, two versions of oneself: Should I keep my child or give him up? Shall I search for my birth parents or accept that I will never know my own history? Fear is palpable: the fear of being removed from loved ones, of falling into the wrong hands, of never belonging or being wanted anywhere in this world.
Many of these authors have first-hand experience with the dislocation of adoption: Shannon Parker and C.J. Redwine are adoptive parents. Julie Esbaugh and Eric Smith were adopted themselves. Caela Carter is a foster parent. The stories viscerally address the grief that goes hand-in-hand with the joy of adoption, particularly when the match is trans-racial or trans-cultural. In “Happy Beginning” by Nic Stone, a grieving adoptive mother who is white explains her African-American daughter’s reasons for leaving home to search for her birth parents: “We did our best to make her feel at home, but that only goes so far when you live with people who are so different from you. Seventeen months with us can’t erase the seventeen years before. There are just some holes none of us could ever fill.”
Those holes can be gigantic—and on both sides. In Caela Carter’s “Up by a Million,” a young woman caught between her incarcerated birth mother and her adoptive mother thinks, “It’s another thing I don’t tell each mom. How I’ll always be more grateful for the second one. How I’ll always love the first one just a little bit more.” For fifteen-year-old Aprillia in “Twenty-Seven Days,” Jenny Koczorowski’s heartbreaking story about finding friendship in foster care, “hope is a jagged thing and cuts deep when I hold too tight.”
Many fine stories in the collection present realistic and gripping takes on the experience of adoption, but a number of these authors use fantasy to subsume and reimagine otherwise tragic situations. Being adopted means feeling different, an outsider, and the addition of fantastical elements—superpowers, strange creatures, fairy tale realms, time travel—can extend the metaphor and simultaneously turn the tables. The one who doesn’t fit in is now extraordinary and powerful, the chosen one. By stepping outside the normal boundaries of reality, these authors have found fascinating ways to amp up the storytelling volume.
In Matthew Quinn Martin’s sci-fi tale, “Lullaby,” a Marine who grew up in foster homes is tapped for a secret mission of no return. He explains his willingness to sacrifice himself:
The secret dream goes like this: One day, the orphan, the throwaway kid, the stepped-on stepchild, the street urchin—honestly, take your pick—will wake to find out that there was a reason why they were abandoned, something beyond random chance or selfishness. Grave circumstances, as it turned out, forced his or her noble parents to make the hardest choice imaginable in order to protect their beloved child from an evil beyond measure. That dream whispers to us the impossible: that the suffering we’ve endured was not without purpose. It was, instead, a purifying fire. And that what happened to us was not a tragedy—it was destiny.
In “A Kingdom Bright and Burning,” Chattanooga writer Dave Connis offers a beautifully written and thoughtful meditation on the power of love to heal. Twelve-year-old Ezekiel does not speak or show any emotion; he lives in a mythical kingdom that he has meticulously constructed in his mind. When he is adopted by a kind and patient couple, the walls he has constructed and the characters he has created slowly begin to dissolve around him, much to his distress: “Another stone shook from its place in the massive wall surrounding my kingdom,” Ezekiel says. “I knew that the shadows I used to travel in wouldn’t last much longer.”
A definite highlight of the collection is William Ritter’s “Deeply,” which injects a note of comedy into an otherwise serious subject. Young Jay’s overly protective adoptive father may be a tad unusual, but he is not without wisdom, as he gently acknowledges that Jay’s attachment to a toy given him by his often-cruel birth family is not unreasonable. “There had been happy times,” Jay thinks. “He held the thought tenderly in his mind now, like a fragile bird with a broken wing. Sad memories had stained them and covered them up and crowded them out, but there had been happy times—and it was okay to remember those, too.”
A graduate of Auburn University, Tina Chambers has worked as a technical editor at an engineering firm and as an editorial assistant at Peachtree Publishers, where she worked on books by Erskine Caldwell, Will Campbell, and Ferrol Sams, to name a few. She lives in Chattanooga.