**spoiler alert** I read this book after reading a Washington Post review. Since I agree with the Post review, I'm pasting a link for it here: http://**spoiler alert** I read this book after reading a Washington Post review. Since I agree with the Post review, I'm pasting a link for it here: http://www.powells.com/biblio/0525949739 I would add that Maxted has a tendency to use adjectives instead of adverbs, but I got over that annoyance, since compelling and interesting characters are generally what make a book for me. However, Cassie, the adopted sister, was less believable to me than Lizbet, the sister who had a miscarriage. In fact, I found Lizbet's reaction to her miscarriage so believable that I wondered if Maxted had personal experience with miscarriage, but not with adoption.
I hesitate to make this comparison, but I enjoyed the book the way I would enjoy a Jane Austen (I guess that's why some describe it as chick lit), with the humor, the way the plot is wrapped up at the end, and one or two male characters you can have a little crush on. However, Maxted's writing style and plot would definitely not merit more than 3 stars compared to Austen's 5....more
**spoiler alert** I know of cases in which one parent chooses a partner who is abusing a son or daughter over the son/daughter (e.g., the parent toler**spoiler alert** I know of cases in which one parent chooses a partner who is abusing a son or daughter over the son/daughter (e.g., the parent tolerates the abuse and/or—when a child welfare agency places the child in foster care, the parent chooses to stay with the partner and lose the child). This novel is a demonstration of how such a seemingly incomprehensible situation might occur and how it might affect the child and family. Although the plot of Bastard out of Carolina occurs outside of the child welfare system, I’m including it in my list because it deals with child maltreatment and because the main character, Bone, ends up spending time in informal kinship care.
I would hope that times have changed since the setting of this book, which I think was the 1960s. For instance, in one scene, when Bone’s mother takes her to the hospital the first time for a broken collar bone, the doctor discovers other broken bones and injuries. The doctor confronts the mother angrily, asking who has been abusing the child. When Bone and her mother won’t respond, a nurse apologizes, saying, “He’s young and he’s not been here long (p. 114),” as the doctor leaves the room in disgust. (Apologies were in order for the doctor’s brusque bedside manner, but certainly not for drawing attention to the abuse, and the nurse was apologizing for the latter.) Bone is allowed to return home with her mother. Today, medical professionals would be mandated to report such abuse to child welfare agencies. States began implementing mandatory reporting laws in response to the Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act, implemented in 1974 (e.g., see: http://pewfostercare.org/research/doc...). The child welfare system doesn’t always do a better job protecting vulnerable kids than their own families do, but Bone was certainly a child in need of protection.
The book addresses themes of anger, love, and beauty/ugliness.
The writing style is interesting; Bone is the narrator and tells the story in the first person. Unlike the narrative, the dialogue—including Bone’s—is written in a kind of southern dialect (e.g., “‘I an’t gonna tell nobody’”, p. 191). The discrepancy between the dialect used for narration and for dialogue was a bit jarring to me, but I perhaps believable due to Bone’s love of reading, which I supposed could familiarize her with a more formal dialect.
The culture and economic status of Bone’s family plays an important role in the story. Bone’s stepfather, Glen, can’t hold a job and her family lives in poverty (as do most of Glen’s mother’s family), but her stepfather’s two brothers are successful businessmen. Much of Glen’s anger stems from his inability to succeed and please his father, and Glen’s family sees Bone and her family as trash. But despite the fact that Bone’s uncles on her mother’s side are drunkards who are regularly jailed for fighting and who are unfaithful to their wives, they are loving and try to protect her when they see evidence of the abuse. Similarly, Bone periodically stays with several nurturing aunts on her mother’s side.
One vignette that seemed almost to be a story within the story had to do with Bone’s friend, Shannon Pearl. Themes in Shannon’s story parallel Bone’s, but almost act as a warning to Bone. Bone had ambiguous feelings about Shannon, who was described as being such an unattractive albino that her school mates universally scape-goated her, and complete strangers would gape at her. Shannon’s parents happen to organize gospel singing concerts, and in one scene, just after a singer tells Shannon how ugly she is, her mother blames the children for any problems (“‘I hope they weren’t bothering you,’” p. 166) and goes on to praise the singer: “‘I love it when you sing,’ she said, and half giggled. Shannon pulled away from her [mother:] and stared up at them both. The hate in her face was terrible. For a moment I loved her with all my heart. (p. 166)” While Bone doesn’t really like Shannon, she has great empathy for her situation and for Shannon’s anger. Shannon’s ugliness is her shame, just as Glen (Bone’s stepfather’s) abuse is Bone’s shame; neither of their mothers seems aware of her daughter’s desperate situation; and each girl as a result deals with incredible internalized anger. Shannon and Bone end up fighting, with Shannon calling Bone trash and Bone calling Shannon ugly. I think the warning to Bone comes when she later sees Shannon kill herself. I think the purpose of Shannon’s story in this book is to provide a turning point for Bone to decide she doesn’t want a fate like Shannon’s; this ultimately gives her the strength to understand that her mother will choose Glen over Bone and that Bone will lose her mother.
I was a little horrified to read somewhere that this novel is semi-autobiographical. Still, I’m not sure anyone could write as convincingly about maltreatment without having had some personal experience....more
This is a story worth telling... but by someone else. Strangely, the fist author is Greg Mortenson, who is described throughout the book in the thirdThis is a story worth telling... but by someone else. Strangely, the fist author is Greg Mortenson, who is described throughout the book in the third person. I assume it was the second author who atually wrote the book and tossed in metaphors such as "his mind scurried like a small furry animal trying to escape a trap." (Not sure I remember this verbatim, but the "small furry animal" part is verbatim.) I think this was done in a misguided attempt to make the book more lively and readable, like a novel. What Mortenson has accomplished is amazing, but he reminds me of Quoyle in _The Shipping News_, and it's just icky to read a memoir about a character like that.
One quote worth repeating, not because of its literary value (in fact, it leaves me with the bizarre--and unintended, I believe--image of injured people walking around with armfuls of bloody unattached legs), but because I agree with the sentiment: "How would his feelings about the conduct of the war change if everything he'd just seen, the boys who had lost their potato salesman father, the girls with the blowing-over blackboard, and all the wounded attempting to walk the streets of Kabul with the pieces of limbs the land mines and cluster-bombs had left them, were just numbers on a laptop screen?" (p. 293-294). This is important to remember for anyone who analyzes quantitative data about people....more
I think the key factors that should determine the rating of this book are 1) the correctness (and relevance) of the description of how Tann carried ouI think the key factors that should determine the rating of this book are 1) the correctness (and relevance) of the description of how Tann carried out adoptions, and trickier, 2) the correctness of the description of the effect that Tann had on the general practice of adoption, continuing decades after her death. This is hard for me to rate, since I actually had never even heard of (or didn't recall hearing of) Georgia Tann previously. Some of the primary allegations that Raymond makes against the way Tann was directly involved in adoption is that she: - Pressured poor and/or single, white mothers to relinquish their children, or actually stole them (in many cases taking newborns from the hospital and telling the mother the child had died), - Maltreated children while they were in her care, - Charged adoptive parents exorbitant and unjustified fees for adoptive placements, - Did not review the qualifications of prospective adoptive parents (sometimes leading to children's placement with abusive adoptive parents), and - Falsified birth certificates so that adoptive parents were recorded as the biological parents, and prevented anyone access from the original records.
Raymond's interpretation is that Tann was responsible for the modern practice of closed adoption. This includes: - The prevention of contact of the birth parents with the child and adoptive parents, and - Altering adoptees' original birth certificates such that the adoptive parents are listed as the birth parents and locking up the original records. Additionally, she posits that Tann was responsible for: - Swaying public opinion to believe that the biological children of single and/or poor white mothers would be better raised by wealthy white couples, - Swaying attitudes among infertile couples that adoption is a viable option for becoming parents, - Popularizing the idea that adopted children are "blank slates" who can be just like biological children to adoptive parents and who have no need or interest in knowing about their roots, and - Developing a market (national and international) for adoption "brokers" who find vulnerable mothers, get (through hook or by crook) their children, place them with adoptive parents, and make a lot of money.
Now, I was well familiar with all the points noted immediately above about closed adoption, but it's impossible for me to say whether Tann is really responsible for them. It seems clear that Tann either followed or originated these practices, however.
I was a bit confused by Raymond's repeated reference to "ethical social workers" who followed some of Tann's practices. For example, she notes that "Georgia's influence was so great that even ethical social workers, by the 1940s, place for adoption many more children than they should have. (p. 117)" Yet, it seems to me that NONE of the aspects of adoption, as Tann carried it out, are "ethical" (except perhaps the more accepting public attitude toward adoption). More examples... "Ethical professionals could conceive of only one way of competing with baby sellers: by imitating them (p. 215)." And on p. 216: "And to mollify adoptive parents 'fearful' of losing their children, social workers began refusing to give adult adoptees information about their roots. To save children, ethical social workers denied them their past."
Raymond's statement that "...American adoptees are legally forbidden from knowledge of their birth parents' names (p. 201)" is a bit of a stretch. Yes, adoptees with closed adoptions in many states have no access to their original birth records. (And I personally agree this lack of access is unethical.) But in some states (as Raymond herself acknowledges) this is not the case. Further, open adoptions (where there is some degree of contact between the birth and adoptive family) are not, to my knowledge, illegal, if all parties consent.
I also agree with some other reviewers that the information in the book could have been presented more succinctly. Also, I'm a little ambivalent about whether the extensive information at the beginning of the book was necessary (about the way the yellow fever plague decades earlier made Memphians more vulnerable to exploitations), but it was interesting.
In any case, if Tann really WAS even partially responsible for changing adoption practices in the ways Raymond alleges, this is an extremely important book. And even if she wasn't responsible for closed adoption, the book is still important because of the direct effect on the 5,000 to 6,000 children Tann placed for adoption. I think the reason that, overall, I believed Raymond's assertions about Tann is that, even today, adoptive parents frequently pay tens of thousands of dollars. It almost seems inevitable, when most prospective adoptive parents have so much more economic power than most birth parents, the "adoption market" would be corrupted....more
**spoiler alert** I hadn't previously read any detailed accounts of children orphaned as a result of the Vietnam war and who came to the United States**spoiler alert** I hadn't previously read any detailed accounts of children orphaned as a result of the Vietnam war and who came to the United States (e.g., Operation Babylift), but I felt this book--even though fiction--gave me an idea of how it might have affected various people involved. These people include the children themselves, some of whom were adopted and some of whom were not, their birth parents, their adoptive parents, and Americans and Vietnamese who worked in orphanages caring for the children.
The book includes eight interconnected "stories." Each is written in the third person but focuses on a different main character, though the characters involved in the different stories overlap. I found the book well-written. For some reason, the author omits quotation marks for dialogue--I've seen this before and I'm not sure why authors do it (e.g., in the Piano Tuner, which I recently read). To me, it makes the writing seem sort of stream of consciousness and obscures a bit whether the dialogue is actually being said, or whether the main character is imagining the dialogue. However, sometimes it can be a bit confusing to keep track of what is being said. In a number of chapters, the author effectively lets the reader imagine what has happened rather than describing it. For example, the chapter involving Bridget, an American orphanage worker in Vietnam who wants to adopt Huan, ends with the revelation that there is a problem with Bridget's paperwork and with Bridget desperately imagining that she will be able to adoption Huan and reconcile with her estranged husband. But the next chapter begins with an adult Huan traveling with his mother Gwen. (Also, a previous chapter mentioned Huan living in California, not where Bridget lived.) So the reader is left imagining Bridget's coming anguish.
Two of the stories seemed almost parallel to each other (to the point that I almost wondered if both characters were necessary in the book)--Vinh and Kim both grew up in foster care, both are angry, both are briefly befriended by parental figures in the community, but in both cases, these parental figures end up accepting the brunt of the Vinh and Kim's rage.
The book raises interesting issues about responsible motherhood. One mother in the novel are so desperate for their children to be adopted that they shove their infants through the bars of the orphanage gate, resulting in contusions and concussions for the infants. I am sure many mothers felt that surrendering their children to the orphanage was their children's only chance for survival. Another (Bridget) "abandons" her biological child in America for 3 years to take care of the hundreds of Vietnamese orphans who need her. A Vietnamese woman never becomes a mother, breaking her engagement to work in an orphanage becomes inured to babies' cries b/c the orphanage doesn't have enough formula to feed them. (Her former fiancee accuses that this is evidence she would have been a terrible mother.) A Vietnamese mother of 3 who works in an orphanage refuses to send 2 of her sons without her to America on the babylift, saying that her family needs her in Vietnam. A white adoptive mother adores her Vietnamese son (Huan), always forgiving him and trying hard to do the right thing, but she seems like a "colorblind" mom who is not aware of issues related to transracial adoption. Another couple are exemplary parents--except that they won't adopt their foster daughter (Mai) b/c they want to help as many children as possible. What is a parent's responsibility? To keep their biological children with them regardless of the situation? In what situations is it better to relinquish (even if temporarily) one's child?
The contrast between Huan and Mai's situations seems to be an example of the difference adoption *might* make for a young person. On p. 241, Phan writes: "Huan can never really complain about his parents. They always showed him love, even during his angry years when he threw their devotion into their faces, sneering that they treated him like a charity case, their trendy Vietnamese baby whose life they rescued. How could they really love him? They didn't even know him. They forgave him for all of this. They continued to love him, even when he couldn't believe it or accept it." In contrast, "[Mai] did everything to demonstrate that she'd make a nice daughter. She listened to them, never disobeyed house rules, and always respected curfew. The Reynoldses talked about how proud they were of Mai, what a fine person she was. That was where their admiration ended. They had so many years to make her a legitimate part of their family, but the possibility was never even discussed. (p. 158)" When Mai comes home upset a few hours late the evening of her 18th birthday, her foster father is initially warm and concerned but when Mai becomes even more upset, he turns his back on her. Mai feels guilty comparing her difficulties to those of her friend Kim, who bounced through multiple foster homes, but it's clear the situation is difficult for everyone--really for everyone involved in the story in any capacity.
It's worth noting that this book includes some graphic and grim descriptions, including the violence in the chapter about Vinh and the desperate conditions in the orphanages in Vietnam. It's one thing to read a psychology text about the attachment cycle in which an infant develops trust when an adult (usually a parent) reliably fulfills an infant's needs when he cries, and about how attachment disorder can develop when those needs aren't fulfilled. But it's another thing to read about how babies crying for milk initially continue crying after being fed watered-down milk but eventually stop after receiving nothing more to fill their tummies because people who sincerely want to help them have nothing else to give them. This book makes you think not only about the effect on the babies, but about the adults in this terrible position....more
In this well-written book, Harrison provides what seems like an honest description of her time spent caring for foster children. I don’t think she isIn this well-written book, Harrison provides what seems like an honest description of her time spent caring for foster children. I don’t think she is just pretending to be humble by refuting claims that she is a saint or a hero. She describes losing her temper, for example, and trying to sabotage (albeit once, and in a fairly minor and passive aggressive way) the reunification of a girl she ultimately adopts with the girl’s birth mother.
Harrison seems to be insightful about children. For example, she observed how interested the children were in looking at photos that showed evidence that they were "noticed and well cared for (p. 30)". Also, she described how children in foster care believe that the problems are their own fault and act out as a result of their feelings of fear, anger, and embarrassment. She writes, "Children who have lived in chaos often don't have labels for their feelings. ... no one bother[s] to help them process it or put it in any kind of context. Because of their egocentric natures, children perceive adult events as being all about them (pp. 100-101)." Clearly, children need help from someone, whether a therapist or a foster parent, to deal with their feelings.
She also acknowledges that there is a bi-directional relationship between children's behavior and maltreatment: "Was he so difficult because he was abused, or did his mother abuse him because he was so difficult? (p. 28)" I don’t think she is saying that any child ever deserves maltreatment, but that difficult child behavior could be the breaking point for a parent who is already under substantial stress.
The author truly seems to love her "work" as a foster parent (I put that in quotes b/c I consider it to be a volunteer position), but she acknowledges what I would think is the most difficult part of foster care: "The price is paid in installments, by my husband and by our children, every time we love and lose and every time we can't love enough (p. 9)." Here, she is referring not just to children moving out of her home, but to children who don't end up in better situations after being in her care. She later expands on this, saying "To foster meant learning to be satisfied with giving Band-Aids to children and families who need intensive care (p. 52)."
Not only can she not do “enough” for foster children, but I agree with what I think she implies at one point, that foster care is—in some sense—inherently negative for children. Harrison writes, "[the foster care system], despite its honorable intentions, often seemed to do as much harm as good (p. 7)." Obviously, abuse and neglect are harmful for children, and, one hopes, the care provided by foster parents can support children’s well-being. But regardless of their maltreatment, being removed from their parents is still a traumatic experience for children.
Additionally, she points out a reservation that I suspect many people who seriously consider foster care have: “…I could never be certain when one of the kids I offered a haven to would make the jump from victim to perpetrator. … I couldn’t guarantee the safety of any of my little ones… (p. 193).”
The book provides useful and concise background information pertaining to children in foster care. For example, she provides a brief and clear description of the attachment cycle (p. 26). She also gives a description of the case reviews that occur every 6 months, at least as they occurred in Massachusetts in the 1990s. (p. 144-145).
I know that localities have different views (and these views change over time) about whether certain children are "adoptable" or not. Clearly, finding a good adoptive home for some children is extremely difficult, but it seems sad to me when adoption is not even considered. She describes one child who was retarded and acted out sexually and who was placed with her at about age 7. This very young child "... could never go home again, but he wasn't seen as a candidate for adoption (p. 27)."
The book also includes some broader observations about the way society deals with foster children and their birth families. For example, she noted that the lack of privacy in the visitation area of the social services building indicated a lack of respect for all the participants (foster parents, children, and birth families.) This is something that appalled me personally when I went to my local court to read the case file of a child for whom I was the Court Appointed Special Advocate. As I sat in the children's waiting room taking notes at a miniature table, an attorney was discussing his teenage client's case, including very personal information that was none of my business, not 5 feet away from me.
She comments, as other authors have, on the "elitist" idea that families experiencing problems with poverty, drugs, or mental illness are not deserving, and that their children and foster parents are guilty by association. This perception hinders changes in social services that could truly help families before the children, ironically, do change from victims into offenders as often happens in adolescence. She notes (contrary to Marc Parent) that leaving children with their biological families would help, but only if (currently non-existent) intensive social services could be provided. She feels that no one who adopts wants to do so only to rescue a child from poverty. Rather, they "only want to give homes to children who really need them (p. 161)." Like Sarah Gerstenzang, she believes the low pay for foster parents is in appropriate. "...to pay a family less to care for a troubled child than many people pay to board a dog is a disgrace (p. 136)."...more
I think this book is valuable for building empathy for what kids in the foster care system experience, and for showing the difficult circumstances undI think this book is valuable for building empathy for what kids in the foster care system experience, and for showing the difficult circumstances under which investigative workers work (e.g., a two-week training period, even for those with no relevant experience and unrelated fields of study; large caseloads and limited resources). It is also interesting to consider that Parent never learns the outcomes of any children whose cases he investigates (other than those whose cases are reported in the media, presumably). I would think this would be a very difficult aspect of the job, but Parent remarks on it only briefly at the end of the book.
Unfortunately, the writing style is over the top. For example: "...Ms. Jacobs was sweating a kiddie pool in her bed. She scratched with animal intensity throughout he night, creating a racket like a collision in slow motion--like the sound of fire (p. 90)." The same woman later "[cried] like a stifled popgun... (p. 94)," and she "worked like a sled husky (p. 96)." Also, she was "consumed by a bullfight raging in her head (p. 96)." In another scene, "[Children] were stacking some dirty-looking hollow plastic blocks covered with the spit and tears of a thousand sick children (p. 101)." I suppose Parent is trying to be literary, but these images often don't ring true or are so overwrought as to be distracting.
Parent spends a lot of time scared. For example, in one chapter, he is so scared he could feel "...the hairs on the back of my neck slowly rotating in their follicles... (p. 109)." In another chapter, he writes: "I don't have to tell you we were scared--[But rest assured, he does anyway.]--as many times as we'd been in bad waters and we were still scared (p. 305)."
Toward the end of the book, he develops an oddly informal and grammatically incorrect style. "Me and a few of his friends sat in a room playing cards... (p. 328)." Is this intended to show how he now fits in with the tough New Yorkers he works with?
Parent comes to several conclusions I'm not sure I agree with. For example, in one chapter, he describes a woman who forces two of her children out of their apartment window to their deaths, in a delusional effort to save them from a lifetime of suffering. Parent observes that "we all hold, in our minds, the ability to create images that would break us in half (p. 109)." Now, I would agree that everyone has an ability to behave cruelly, especially under duress, but I am not sure that any one of us could snap into delusion at a moment's notice.
Also, after describing an incident in which he roughly handled a child who resisted a removal, he writes, "The injustices we commit against others always end up falling harder on us that the ones we've hurt (p.160)." This statement is especially ironic in a book about parents who maltreat their children. Isn't this the classic thing parents say when spanking their child (i.e., this hurts me more than it hurts you)? Shouldn't children be considered inherently more vulnerable than adults?
Toward the end of the book, Parent struggles to understand how he could have failed to remove a baby from his home, when the baby dies a few days later of starvation. He initially torments himself that perhaps he felt this poor family was not as deserving of his attention as a better-off family would be. Later he has the epiphany that he had "lost perspective on the power of the moment...to effect change (p. 350)." He decides that his inaction was due to a feeling of futility to help a family whose problems were so deep, but that making even a small change should be satisfying. It is "arrogant and naive" to aim to solve such deep problems; instead, one should aim for the satisfaction of making a small difference.
Parent ends the book by describing a child, recently removed from his family, who experiences "joy" after receiving some new clothes while waiting for a foster placement. Parent says he "knew he was one of the lucky ones because for just a moment, I had seen it for what it was (p. 358)." I am not quite sure what he means here. Seen *what* for what it was? Lucky for witnessing some tiny, positive thing in a sea of problems?
In the epilogue, Parent concludes that workers must be kept empowered in order to "keep them from losing track of the vital importance of their work (p. 361)." Later, in the afterword, the only solution he provides is that workers need to "live in the moment" and maintain a mindset that allows them to "continue to fight the battle" on behalf of children. While Parent acknowledges problems in the system, he ultimately holds individual workers responsible for letting children slip through their fingers. However, I think that while finding ways to workers motivated is important, workers cannot be successful if the broader child welfare system does not provide them with sufficient resources and support....more