Adoptees have been bravely putting their hearts on paper for years. These books are written by adoptees and will undoubtedly provide a great deal of insight into the inner workings of those who have been adopted. This list will continue to grow. (If there are any books you’d like to see on this list please let us know!)
Our current FEATURED BOOK is You Don’t Look Adopted, by Anne Heffron
A Long Way Home, by Saroo Brierly / When Saroo Brierley used Google Earth to find his long-lost home town half a world away, he made global headlines.
Saroo had become lost on a train in India at the age of five. Not knowing the name of his family or where he was from, he survived for weeks on the streets of Kolkata, before being taken into an orphanage and adopted by a couple in Australia.
Despite being happy in his new family, Saroo always wondered about his origins. He spent hours staring at the map of India on his bedroom wall. When he was a young man the advent of Google Earth led him to pore over satellite images of the country for landmarks he recognised. And one day, after years of searching, he miraculously found what he was looking for.
Then he set off on a journey to find his mother.
A Long Way Home is a moving and inspirational true story of survival and triumph against incredible odds. It celebrates the importance of never letting go of what drives the human spirit – hope.
The Hundred-Year Flood, by Matthew Salesses / In the shadow of a looming flood that comes every one hundred years, Tee tries to convince himself that living in a new place will mean a new identity and a chance to shed the parallels between him and his adopted father. This beautiful and dreamlike story follows Tee, a twenty-two-year-old Korean-American, as he escapes to Prague in the wake of his uncle’s suicide and the aftermath of 9/11. His life intertwines with Pavel, a painter famous for revolution; Katka, his equally alluring wife; and Pavel’s partner—a giant of a man with an American name. As the flood slowly makes its way into the old city, Tee contemplates his own place in life as both mixed and adopted and as an American in a strange land full of heroes, myths, and ghosts. In the tradition of Native Speaker and The Family Fang, the Good Men Project’s Matthew Salesses weaves together the tangled threads of identity, love, growing up, and relationships in his stunning first novel, The Hundred-Year Flood
An Ode to the Humans Who’ve Loved and Left Me, by JS Lee / A man loses the woman of his dreams due to his philandering ways. A lesbian couple are on the brink of an opportunity of a lifetime. A vibrant family with an adopted Chinese child struggles with racial bullying and extramarital flirtations. A successful Japanese American woman in her thirties is disheartened by the dating pool. What do they all have in common? A cat.
In the meantime, Charlie—the cat—is suffering from somewhat of an identity crisis. His caretakers, environment, and name changes repeatedly, leaving him unsure of his place in the world. Through his transient journey, he encounters a range of humans in alternative lifestyles. His experience of being rehomed instills him with the will to seek justice for others—such as the troubled children next door. Along the way, he stumbles upon friendship, a sense of purpose, and maybe even the meaning of life.
“An Ode to the Humans Who’ve Loved and Left Me” is a study of human nature, through the watchful eyes of an introspective tabby cat. It examines race relations, interpersonal complications, and the often uninspected effects of adoption. Spoken with an honest and heartfelt meter, it’s a gaze into the lives of those in search of belonging, and to be understood. The children’s companion versions are titled, “For All the Lives I’ve Lived and Loved” and “For All the Friends I’ve Found”. The motivation for these pairings is for parent and child to bond through the characters together.
Little Sylvie, an Unforgettable Adoption Story / Sylvie always thought it was a great thing to be adopted. She was unique, special. Her parents saved her life. She was in a filthy orphanage and was not growing or gaining weight as she should. Sylvie nearly starved to death, but that’s not the main story here. Being found by her birth-mother while studying law caused extreme trauma and redirected her life forever.
This story was based on Sylvie’s life, more specifically, her adoption. All of the names have been changed to protect the privacy of Sylvie’s family and friends. Sylvie is her original name, but her name was changed upon adoption. If you are adopted or have adopted a child this one’s for you.
It Wasn’t Love, by JS Lee / Millie has decided it’s time to take control over the situation regarding her virginity, or lack thereof. Determined to regain some semblance of balance after a year of post-rape trauma, she finds a kindred spirit—Luke—who is dealing with a loss of his own. Off the hook from living up to impossible expectations, she chooses to reinvent herself through her sexuality and a series of relationship failures.
Millie is also the sole Asian adoptee in a large and bustling white family whose struggles are plenty. Severe anorexia and family embezzlement allow her own less tangible issues to be easily overlooked. Emptied of the life she thought she was meant to lead, dive with her through the fractures between innocence and immorality.
‘It Wasn’t Love’ exposes a controversial self-empowerment in a society of floundering youth. It reveals the shame often coveted too closely and the truths that just can’t be changed. Through the voice of a girl on the verge of her will, experience the awkwardness of trying to cope with suicide and self-preservation. Serve as witness to the tumultuous path she must take to seek inner peace and, at last, love.
Lucky Girl, by Mei-Ling Hopgood / In a true story of family ties, journalist Mei-Ling Hopgood, one of the first wave of Asian adoptees to arrive in America, comes face to face with her past when her Chinese birth family suddenly requests a reunion after more than two decades.
In 1974, a baby girl from Taiwan arrived in America, the newly adopted child of a loving couple in Michigan. Mei-Ling Hopgood had an all-American upbringing, never really identifying with her Asian roots or harboring a desire to uncover her ancestry. She believed that she was lucky to have escaped a life that was surely one of poverty and misery, to grow up comfortable with her doting parents and brothers.
Then, when she’s in her twenties, her birth family comes calling. Not the rural peasants she expected, they are a boisterous, loving, bossy, complicated middle-class family who hound her daily—by phone, fax, and letter, in a language she doesn’t understand—until she returns to Taiwan to meet them. As her sisters and parents pull her into their lives, claiming her as one of their own, the devastating secrets that still haunt this family begin to emerge. Spanning cultures and continents, Lucky Girl brings home a tale of joy and regret, hilarity, deep sadness, and great discovery as the author untangles the unlikely strands that formed her destiny.
Made in China: A Story of Adoption, by Vanita Oelschlager / Made In China touches on two seemingly unrelated subjects – adoption and sibling relations. As told in this story. These are intertwined and very important to one young child who literally was “”made in China.”” The story begins when the child is told by her older sister, in a teasing manner, that she is adopted from China, and “”marked”” just like the broom and their toys. Upset, she goes to her father who tells her the story of how she came to be their child but “”you’re not made like a toy, you were made in China to give us joy.”” And, he also reminds her that “”you are much more than what people say about you.”” The story is resolved with her older sister and she is reassured that “”In all the wide world we couldn’t love you more.””
. The Adoptee Survival Guide / Thirty adoptee authors provide support, encouragement, and understanding to other adoptees in facing the complexities of being adopted, embarking on search and reunion, fighting for equal access to identifying information, navigating complex family relationships with the latest technology, and surviving it all with a sense of humor.
In Their Voices: Black Americans on Transracial Adoption, by Rhonda M. Roorda / While many proponents of transracial adoption claim that American society is increasingly becoming “color-blind,” a growing body of research reveals that for transracial adoptees of all backgrounds, racial identity does matter. Rhonda M. Roorda elaborates significantly on that finding, specifically studying the effects of the adoption of black and biracial children by white parents. She incorporates diverse perspectives on transracial adoption by concerned black Americans of various ages, including those who lived through Jim Crow and the Civil Rights era. All her interviewees have been involved either personally or professionally in the lives of transracial adoptees, and they offer strategies for navigating systemic racial inequalities while affirming the importance of black communities in the lives of transracial adoptive families.
In Their Voices is for parents, child-welfare providers, social workers, psychologists, educators, therapists, and adoptees from all backgrounds who seek clarity about this phenomenon. The author examines how social attitudes and federal policies concerning transracial adoption have changed over the last several decades. She also includes suggestions on how to revise transracial adoption policy to better reflect the needs of transracial adoptive families.
Perhaps most important, In Their Voices is packed with advice for parents who are invested in nurturing a positive self-image in their adopted children of color and the crucial perspectives those parents should consider when raising their children. It offers adoptees of color encouragement in overcoming discrimination and explains why a “race-neutral” environment, maintained by so many white parents, is not ideal for adoptees or their families.
Ten Thousand Sorrows, by Elizabeth Kim / I don’t know how old I was when I watched my mother’s murder, nor do I know how old I am today.’ The illegitimate daughter of a peasant and an American GI, Elizabeth Kim spent her early years as a social outcast in her village in the Korean countryside. Ostracized by their family and neighbours, she and her mother were regularly pelted with stones on their way home from the rice fields. Yet there was a tranquil happiness in the intense bond between mother and daughter. Until the day that Elizabeth’s grandfather and uncle came to punish her mother from the dishonour she had brought on the family, and executed her in front of her daughter. Elizabeth was dumped in an orphanage in Seoul. After some time, she was lucky enough to be adopted by an American couple. But when she arrived in America she found herself once again surrounded by fanaticism and prejudice. Elizabeth’s mother had always told her that life was made up of ten thousand joys as well as ten thousand sorrows, and, supported by her loving daughter, and by a return to her Buddhist faith, she finally found a way to savour those joys, as well as the courage to exorcise the demons of her past.
Adopted Out, by S.M. Ezeff / A memoir of closed adoption and blackness.
Dreams of My Mothers: A Story of Love Transcendent, by Joel L. A. Peterson / Dreams of My Mothers is based on the true story of two mothers’ transcendent love for the same boy. It is a love that reaches across the globe, propels them and him on a riveting and unimaginable path of transformation and triumph. It is a story that will speak to everyone who reads it; a story that tells us that love alone is not enough. Transcendent love is exceptionally rare, requiring sacrifice beyond normal boundaries, a faith beyond all doubts, and most of all, the courage to dream beyond all hope.
Author Joel L. A. Peterson gives us a vivid and gripping story of a biracial, impoverished boy who, through the love and courage of his mothers, overcomes questions of identity, race, physical handicaps and prejudice to become a new American success story. It touches on all the issues of who we are–as a people, as a nation, and as individuals. Dreams of My Mothers is a story particular to a few, but relevant to all. It is American, yet global. It is a story that feels intensely personal, yet universal in its themes and humanness.
Fish Heads and Folktales: Reflections on Culture, Family, and Life from a Korean Adoptee / Before Peter M. Moran was old enough to walk, he took a trip around the world that few people ever experience. Over the next thirty-plus years, he embarked on a journey of discovery that, although unique, many can relate to.
Moran was born in Seoul, South Korea, and was adopted by an American family at the age of seven months. When he arrived at his new home in Minneapolis, he was met by an older sister, the couple’s biological child, and he later became brother to three more adopted children.
Fish Heads and Folktales is Moran’s autobiographical account of growing up with dual identities as a Korean boy adopted by a Caucasian family, and the path that led him not only back to his motherland to discover his roots, but also to take a closer look at his life to discover acceptance and inner peace. A thoughtful, entertaining collection of short stories that summarize Moran’s life journey, it delves into topical issues such as race, culture, and overcoming stereotypes along with universal issues like the importance of family and falling in love.
Sure to touch your heart, Fish Heads and Folktales is a must-read for anyone who has ever felt marginalized or struggled with fitting in.
Ghost of Sangju, by Soojung Jo / A Memoir of Reconciliation / “I was born in South Korea and named Soojung. I was three years old when I arrived in the US to be adopted by an American family and renamed Raina. At twenty-five I gave birth to the first of three children, and at thirty-three I adopted one more from China. I was thirty-six when I learned the identity of my Korean mother, or omma, and thirty-seven when I learned that my Korean father was her kidnapper and rapist…”
So begins Ghost of Sangju, which takes readers from Soojung’s childhood in Kentucky filled with joy, family, friendship–and the loneliness of being marked as an outsider even in her own home–to her return to Korea and the family that lost her. Alternating between humor and heartbreak, she offers a glimpse into a life foreign to most: that of a West Point cadet and her return to South Korea, the country that had once sent her away. Soojung vividly paints a portrait of marriage, parenthood (as both a biological and adoptive mother) and the tumultuous emotions of reuniting, rediscovering, and reestablishing lost familial bonds. Ghost of Sangju is a story of one woman’s journey to merge her two selves, and the universal search for self-discovery, identity, and reconciliation.
You Don’t Look Adoption, by Anne Heffron / Adoption can be tricky. It’s a wonderful thing to be chosen, to be brought up by loving parents, but in order for this to happen, there has to be an initial abandonment, and this loss can settle like a seed of unease in the adopted person, quite possibly affecting the entirety of his or her life.
Anne Heffron, who’d been adopted at ten weeks old, embarked on a three-month journey she called “Write or Die”, leaving California for her birth place, New York City, in order to do the one thing she’d been unable to do her entire adult life: tell her own story, and not the one she’d heard all her life that began, “The day we got you.”
You Don’t Look Adopted is an intimate look at what it means for an adopted person to live in the world as someone who was both chosen and given away.
From Orphan to Adoptee, SooJin Pate / Since the 1950s, more than 100,000 Korean children have been adopted by predominantly white Americans; they were orphans of the Korean War, or so the story went. But begin the story earlier, as SooJin Pate does, and what has long been viewed as humanitarian rescue reveals itself as an exercise in expanding American empire during the Cold War.
Transnational adoption was virtually nonexistent in Korea until U.S. military intervention in the 1940s. Currently it generates $35 million in revenue—an economic miracle for South Korea and a social and political boon for the United States. Rather than focusing on the families “made whole” by these adoptions, this book identifies U.S. militarism as the condition by which displaced babies became orphans, some of whom were groomed into desirable adoptees, normalized for American audiences, and detached from their past and culture.
Using archival research, film, and literary materials—including the cultural work of adoptees—Pate explores the various ways in which Korean children were employed by the U.S. nation-state to promote the myth of American exceptionalism, to expand U.S. empire during the burgeoning Cold War, and to solidify notions of the American family. In From Orphan to Adoptee we finally see how Korean adoption became the crucible in which technologies of the U.S. empire were invented and honed.
To Save the Children of Korea: The Cold War Origins of International Adoption, by Arissa Oh / The first book about the origins and history of international adoption. Although it has become a commonplace practice in the United States, we know very little about how or why it began, or how or why it developed into the practice that we see today.
Arissa Oh argues that international adoption began in the aftermath of the Korean War. First established as an emergency measure through which to evacuate mixed-race “GI babies,” it became a mechanism through which the Korean government exported its unwanted children: the poor, the disabled, or those lacking Korean fathers. Focusing on the legal, social, and political systems at work, this book shows how the growth of Korean adoption from the 1950s to the 1980s occurred within the context of the neocolonial U.S.-Korea relationship, and was facilitated by crucial congruencies in American and Korean racial thought, government policies, and nationalisms. It also argues that the international adoption industry played an important but unappreciated part in the so-called Korean “economic miracle.”
Korean adoption served as a kind of template as international adoption began, in the late 1960s, to expand to new sending and receiving countries. Ultimately, Oh demonstrates that although Korea was not the first place that Americans adopted from internationally, it was the place where organized, systematic international adoption was born.
The Primal Wound: Understanding the Adopted Child, by Nancy Newton Verrier / “The Primal Wound: Understanding the Adopted Child”, by Nancy Verrier, is a challenging and courageous work. A book which adoptees call their “bible,” it is a must read for anyone connected with adoption: adoptees, birth parents, adoptive parents, therapists, educators, and attorneys. In its application of information about perinatal psychology, attachment, bonding, and loss, “The Primal Wound” clarifies the effects of separation from the birthmother on adopted children. In addition, it gives adoptees, whose pain has long been unacknowledged or misunderstood, validation for their feelings, as well as explanations for their behavior. As one adoptee said, “Only one thing has caused me more pain and damage than the existence of the primal wound: the world’s insistence that it does not exist.” The existence of the primal wound and suggestions for healing that wound are intelligently and compassionately set forth in this book, which is fast becoming the quintessential work about the complex and life-long process of adoption. The insight the author brings to the experience of abandonment and loss will contribute not only to the healing of those connected with adoption, but will bring understanding and encouragement to anyone who has ever felt abandoned.
The Long Journey, by John L. Kennedy / The Long Journey is the story of one man’s trials and triumphs as a Korean adoptee, from his time in Korea as a small child to his struggles as an outsider trying to find his place in America.
The Declassified Adoptee: Essays of an Adoption Activist, by Amanda H.L. Transue-Woolston / Amanda H.L. Transue-Woolston is an adult adoptee, social worker, author, and speaker. She debuted in the adoption activism community as a blogger whose writing processed both her personal and political experience of being adopted. Throughout this book, readers bear witness to key moments in the unfolding of an adoptee from a quiet contemplator to an outspoken advocate for the rights of adoptees and their loved ones.
“The Declassified Adoptee Essays of an Adoption Activist” offers a wide collection of writings that were highlighted as significant by readers. These essays have been read on the floors of adoption hearings, mailed by adoptees to family members to expand their understanding of being adopted, and sent to adoption agencies to encourage greater availability of post-adoption support. By addressing adoption through brief essays, the book provides an avenue through which readers can begin to metabolize some of the tougher concepts in adoption.
Separated @ Birth: A True Love Story of Twin Sisters Reunited, by Anais Bordier and Samantha Futerman / When twenty-five-year-old South Korean adoptee and actress Samantha Futerman opened a Facebook message from a stranger named Anaïs Bordier, she had no idea that it would change her life forever…
Adopted from South Korea as an infant, Sam grew up in New Jersey with her parents and two brothers. She never imagined she had a sister; nor did Anaïs—who grew up in France and was also adopted from South Korea—until she saw an actress with a face identical to her own in a YouTube video and decided to contact her doppelgänger via social media. A few dubious exchanges turned from mistrust and cynicism to utter shock, as the women discovered more in common than just their looks—and their birth date.
Samantha and Anaïs’s ensuing adventure is a dive into the fascinating research on identical twins, particularly those who have been separated since birth; a reexamination of nature vs. nurture; a guide through the often befuddling territory of foreign adoption; and an emotional soul-search for two inextricably connected set of parents and children.
Their discovery can only be described as the unimaginable journey of a lifetime—one that spans languages, continents, cultures, and ultimately proves that none of these barriers can disrupt the unbreakable bond between sisters.
From Morning Calm to Midnight Sun, by Sunny Jo / An enormously moving autobiographical book by a Korean adoptee.
The Language of Blood, by Jane Jeong Trenka / Jane Jeong Trenka and her sister Carol were adopted by Frederick and Margaret Brauer and raised in the small, homogeneous town of Harlow, Minnesota―a place “where the sky touches the earth in uninterrupted horizon . . . where stoicism is stamped into the bones of each generation.” They were loved as American children without a past.
With inventive and radiant prose that includes real and imagined letters, a fairy tale, a one-act play, crossword puzzles, and child-welfare manuals, Trenka recounts a childhood of insecurity, a battle with a stalker that escalates to a plot for her murder, and an extraordinary trip to Seoul to meet her birth mother and siblings. Lost between two cultures for the majority of her life, it is in Korea that she begins to understand her past and the power of the unspoken language of blood.
The Heart of Belonging: An Adoptee’s Quest for His Origins, by Emil Daugaard / In The Heart of Belonging: An Adoptee’s Quest for His Origins, author Emil Daugaard brings together his lifelong experience of growing up, living and developing in the borderland between the Western and Arabic worlds. The author shares his reflections on international adoptions as a phenomenon charged with moral considerations, inviting the reader to take part in his inner journey between hope and despair on the long road to claiming the right to understand his own origins. The Heart of Belonging: An Adoptee’s Quest for His Origins provides an opportunity to experience a significant portion of the childhood, challenges and opportunities an adoptee encounters in the lifelong effort of balancing a foreign exterior with an inner life that’s quite familiar to the people around him. Daugaard’s work offers useful practical advice and guidance to people who are already or are considering becoming adoptive parents. It speaks directly to people who are wrestling with an incomplete family history, or have not discovered their innermost selves, or are seeking the courage to reach out to the unknown and frightening. Co-author Dr. Talal Khodari guides readers through the sometimes frightening reality behind what goes under the guise of international adoption, a world of widespread corruption and organized trafficking in children in an adoption system characterized by opacity and inhuman greed. Together, the authors share their thoughts on the possible reasons for both the voluntary giving-up of children and the illegal kidnapping of children in a society torn by war. They show how the invisible scars left by an incomplete adoption process can result in a complicated, lifelong process of healing for the child. Ultimately, The Heart of Belonging: An Adoptee’s Quest for His Origins also shares with readers the author’s more uplifting story about how being different can be a way of being unique, about bonds of friendship across boundaries, about fears overcome, and about his encounter with people who gave him an indescribably familiar sense of cultural belonging.