Sure, Greenglass House barreled its way into the top spot for my Middle Grade picks of the year for a number of reasons. It’s gorgeous artwork, it’s beautifully crafted mystery, it’s stories and friendships and love–these are all reasons I adored this book, but there was one that stood out to me: Greenglass House is a book about adoption…and it’s not.
I myself was adopted as a baby, and grew up knowing as much. After seeing any number of made for TV dramas (Felicity anyone?) in which the grown child finds out their parents are not truly “their own” and then spiral into an unparalleled identity crisis and cesspool of betrayed feelings, I’m quite grateful for the openness of my family. And not in a “This is our adopted daughter, Margot.” kind of way. My parents made it special, giving me “Heidi Day”, the day I was adopted, as a sort of second birthday to celebrate each year. We still do, if only through a phone call.
Like Milo in Greenglass House, I never felt a lack of love because of my adoption, in fact, I felt an overabundance of it. My parents wanted me in their lives so badly they waited years to make me a part of their family. They went through the emotional roller coaster and red tape of adoption (not once, but twice–my older brother is adopted as well), to make certain that I had a the best home and family they could give. I never once felt like my biological mother didn’t love me, quite the opposite. I knew that she loved me so much she was willing to give me up because she couldn’t provide the home and family she wanted for me.
I’ve never known much about my biological parents–they were always some vague statistics on a certificate to me. Height, age, hair and eye color, ethnic origin (which is “mixed European” and doesn’t do much for one’s ethnic identity btw), that’s about it. Honestly, I’ve given very little thought to my biological father. I know that my mother was 19, and a freshman in college, and I can’t help but assume that he wasn’t really in the picture. My mother, on the other hand, I’ve considered a great deal. One of the things that has meant the most to me in life was a letter written to me by my biological mother that my parents gave to me on my 16th birthday, when they knew I was old enough to grasp everything therein (I was, after all, only 3 years younger at the time than the woman who wrote it). In the letter, my bio mother explained to me why she made the decision she did, and suffice it to say it came from a place of vast love rather than a place of not wanting.
This is the thing that meant so much to me about Greenglass House–the wondering. Milo loves his parents unquestionably–they’re his family. But as the adopted son of a different culture, he can’t help but wonder about his parents. And in Greenglass House, Kate Milford assures us that it’s okay to wonder. Sure, my identity crisis was a bit easier than Milo’s. While my biology is not almost entirely Norwegian and German like my family’s, I’m still white. We match in a way that I would have to tell someone for them to know that I was adopted (and frequently did as a child, much to my brother’s chagrin who hated people knowing we were adopted). But still–as I enter the phase of trying to create my own family, I can’t help but feel this astounding craving to have someone in my life who looks like me (to which my sister has laughed and pointed out that she puts red highlights in her hair just so people will stop asking if her daughter is adopted–she’s not, just doesn’t look like her mom at all). Milo–I get you.
Over the past couple of months, thanks to a wedding gift from a friend, I’ve joined 23 and Me which has given me an interesting look at my true ethnic history. Has it helped me feel identified? No, not really–I still identify as ethnically Norwegian, even though I’m only 6.9% Scandinavian, but it’s opened up a world of potential connections to me that I can’t help but find interesting and tempting. I don’t plan to use 23 and Me (or anything else) to actively track down my biological mother, but I’m open to the possibility that it could happen. Prior to reading Greenglass House, this always felt like a bit of a betrayal to my adoptive family, particularly my father. I don’t ever want to hurt him or have him feel as if I don’t love him more than anything by finding out about life before him. But in Greenglass House, which is in its way a letter to the Milford’s future adopted child, Milo is assured that his parents know he wonders, and more than that–they’re okay with it. I’m just betting, despite never having had the conversation, my dad’s okay with it too. greenglass
I’ve only ever read two books I can think of in which the main character was adopted (and I mean adopted at birth, not in a tragic orphan finds a home Anne Shirley kind of way), and Greenglass House was one of them. Everyone in our community speaks toward the need of diverse books and one of the driving reasons is that everyone deserves to see a major part of themselves in a book. Not always–we use books to escape, and having different characters that we don’t relate to broadens our mindset and worldview–but each and every one of us deserves that at some point. For me, Greenglass House was able to reflect back a part of myself I’ve rarely had the opportunity to see.
I’m not sure I can really express how much that makes this book mean to me personally, but I’ve tried. It means even more that while being adopted was a big part of Milo’s identity, it wasn’t really what Greenglass House was about. It’s not really what I’m about either–it’s just a building block, one piece of who I am as a person. An important one, but not everything.
So thank you, Kate Milford, for writing this book. For making adoption a part of it, and for telling me that it’s okay to wonder.
Greenglass House is available now from Clarion Books, and I couldn’t encourage you more to go read it. It’s beautiful, fun, suspenseful, and touching. It’s been nominated for the Cybils Awards (even before I got to it), and has been long listed for the National Book Award.