What does it mean to belong? People of all ages from all backgrounds have found themselves pondering this question.
For many of us, a strong sense of self and identity begins at home. Our family — our first community — helps us determine the rules of society and how we fit in. In a happy and healthy household, you don’t have to change who you are to belong. No one can argue that how our family raises us has a big impact on how we identify as an adult.
But for many who grew up in non-traditional families, the situation becomes more complicated.
What if you’re the product of illegal adoption, with no way to gain information about your birth parents? What if your family is very different from you, like in the case of interracial or cross-continental adoption? What if you’re a child of the foster care system, and grow up without a steady family? What if, as an adult, you discover your family lied to you about your birth and where you came from?
Where, then, do you truly belong?
These six memoirs explore that very question, and unearth the complexities of family, genetics and identity.
A Long Way Home by Saroo Brierley
In this international bestseller — and the inspiration for the 2016 film Lion — Brierley tells the story of how he used Google Earth to rediscover his childhood life and home, taking him on an incredible journey across oceans and continents.
Wandering the rough streets of Calcutta, India for weeks after getting lost on a train, 5-year-old Brierley was transferred into an adoption agency. He was soon adopted by a middle-class family from Australia and wouldn’t see his homeland again for over 25 years. Despite living happily with his new family, he always wondered about his origins — he couldn’t remember where he was from or even his family name. As a child, he would spend hours staring at a map of India on his bedroom wall. Then, as a young man, Google Earth appeared and offered him a new tool. Pouring over satellite images, Brierley scoured for any noticeable landmarks from his childhood. In this poignant and inspirational tale, Brierley never loses hope, and after years of searching, he finally finds what he was looking for.
No Stone Unturned by Nadean Stone
One woman leaves no stone unturned in her search for her birth mother using DNA technology and innovative detective skills.
Stone was abandoned on Christmas Eve and illegally given away during a time when many unwed Canadian women were coerced or forced to give their babies up for adoption. After a deep dive into Nadean’s life up to this point — including an abusive and hostile marriage that produced a son who was used like a pawn between them — the book shifts gears and becomes an all-out investigative thriller to track down the author’s birth mother. Great research, detail and perseverance carry the day, shifting from the narrative of a woman and her struggles to an obsessive, detective-like hunt. Stone’s story highlights the obstacles and hardships many adoptees face, especially the more than 600,000 Canadian babies deemed “illegitimate.” Despite the challenges, grief and loss Stone faced, her perseverance and courage win out in her search for her mother — and for herself. (Read the full BookTrib review here.)
Inheritance by Dani Shapiro
Inheritance explores what makes us who we are — what combination of memory, history, biology — and the secrets we keep from our loved ones and ourselves.
Shapiro was puzzled when her Ancestry.com report showed a DNA “ethnicity estimate” that belied her family’s identification as 100 percent Ashkenazi Jewish. When she compared her results with her half-sister, her father’s daughter by his first wife, she learned that they shared no DNA at all. Thus begins an exhausting, exhilarating journey, as Shapiro and her husband hone in on her biological father — a sperm donor who’s been married for decades and has three grown children. Initially wary of Shapiro and her strong desire to connect, the donor eventually reconsiders, and the two begin an email correspondence that will culminate in a meeting. In the meantime, Shapiro tries to piece together the story of her existence. In her quest to unlock her own identity, Shapiro affirms her place in the world and accepts that she may never know all of the answers she seeks. (Read the full BookTrib review here.)
All You Can Ever Know by Nicole Chung
This emotionally raw memoir about transracial adoption and the intricacies of identity will surely resonate with readers who’ve struggled to find where they truly belong.
What does it mean to lose your roots? Nicole Chung faced this very question growing up as the adopted Korean child of white parents. Growing up in a small Oregon town, Chung often felt like an outsider — facing prejudices her parents couldn’t see and struggling to discover her own identity as an Asian American. Her parents fed her a comforting, prepackaged myth about her adoption — that her birth parents made the ultimate sacrifice in giving her up in hopes she would have a better future. But Chung starts to question if this is the whole truth, or if there’s more to her story. Coinciding with the birth of her own children, Chung begins the search for her birth parents, unveiling painful family secrets. In her journey to find herself, Chung explores the issues of identity, race and motherhood that are sure to connect to readers of all backgrounds.
The Power of Being Seen by Roger Saillant
The Power of Being Seen is an unflinching portrayal of growing up in the foster care system, while also a book about the universal pains, challenges and triumphs of growth and development.
Saillant spends much of the narrative recounting his experience of living in foster homes in Pennsylvania in the 1950s, mostly on a farm. In many of the stories, readers see Saillant is a product of the foster care system — an unusual dynamic in which a child provides unpaid labor to a family in exchange for room and board. The families may or may not take in the children to love and to cherish, but if things don’t work out, they can be returned to the system. Statistically, the deck appears to be stacked against foster children. Saillant beats the odds, but it was hardly an easy journey. Saillant describes acutely his feelings of anger, resentment and hopelessness to the point of contemplating suicide, but the support, guidance and encouragement he was shown by many caring adults made all the difference in being heard — and being seen. (Read the full BookTrib review here.)
Uprooted: Family Trauma, Unknown Origins, and the Secretive History of Artificial Insemination by Peter J. Boni
In this suspenseful memoir that reads like a mystery novel, one man shares his personal journey and acquired expertise to shed light on the scandalous evolution of artificial insemination and its consequences.
Just before his 50th birthday, after the death of his father, Boni’s mother reveals a shocking secret: his father was not actually his father. He was conceived via artificial insemination using an anonymous sperm donor — the work of groundbreaking science back in 1945. This bombshell sends Boni’s life spiraling as it rekindles past traumas and sparks a relentless search to find out more about where he came from. After two decades of meticulous research, modern technology catches up to Boni’s quest and shows him the answers he’s searched for. In Boni’s exploration of the history, culture, science and law of the assisted reproduction industry, he unveils the shady past of this multibillion-dollar industry, in hopes of improving the industry’s ethical practices.