The best books about adoption and what it means to be a family

Who am I?

I don’t just write stories, I study them. I’ve noticed that nearly every major hero/ine’s journey and epic tale has an adoption component. From Bible stories and Greek myths (adoption worked out well for Moses, not so much for Oedipus) to Star Wars through This Is Us, we humans are obsessed with origin stories. And it’s no wonder: “Where do I come from?” and “Where do I belong?” are questions that confound and comfort us from the time we are tiny until we take our final breath. As an adoptive mother and advocate for continuing contact with birth families, I love stories about adoption, because no two are alike. They give us light and insight into how families are created and what it means to be a family—by blood, by love, and sometimes, the combination of the two.

I wrote...

Rock Needs River: A Memoir About a Very Open Adoption

By Vanessa McGrady,

Book cover of Rock Needs River: A Memoir About a Very Open Adoption

What is my book about?

Every family is complicated. None of us has a perfectly linear story. But if we are lucky, our stories are laced with love and compassion and humor. This was most surely the case in Vanessa McGrady’s life. In Rock Needs River: A Memoir About a Very Open Adoption, her deft and moving love letter to her daughter, Grace.

After two years of waiting to adopt—years spent slogging through paperwork and bouncing between hope and despair—a miracle finally happened for Vanessa McGrady. Her sweet baby, Grace, was a dream come true. Then she made a highly uncommon decision: when Grace’s biological parents became homeless, Vanessa invited them to stay. Without a blueprint for navigating the practical basics of an open adoption or any discussion of expectations or boundaries, the unusual living arrangement became a bottomless well of conflicting emotions and increasingly difficult decisions complicated by missed opportunities, regret, social chaos, and broken hearts.

The books I picked & why

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Unnatural Selection: A Memoir of Adoption and Wilderness

By Andrea Ross,

Book cover of Unnatural Selection: A Memoir of Adoption and Wilderness

Why this book?

This beautifully told tale of an adoptee searching for her original family is set against her ongoing relationship to the Southwest’s most awe-inspiring terrain, and the people who bring her there. I loved this book because it showed her evolution as a wilderness lover, romantic partner, and mother as she navigated fitting into various incarnations of family, which felt just as perilous, frustrating, and rewarding as finding the right footholds in the natural world. While we are all from Mother Earth, our earthly parents can be critical to a deeper understanding of who we are as people.

Dear Birthmother: Thank You for Our Baby

By Kathleen Silber, Phyllis Speedlin,

Book cover of Dear Birthmother: Thank You for Our Baby

Why this book?

The pioneering godmother of the open-adoption movement in the late 1970s and early ‘80s, Silber did ground-shaking work to bring transparency to the adoption process, which ultimately, is better for the mental health of all parties involved. In Dear Birthmother, a primer of sorts, she helps adoptive parents understand the love, humanity, and loss intrinsic to placing a child for adoption. I love this book because it shines a light on the much-deserved compassion to these women who give up so much in search of a better life for themselves and their children.

God and Jetfire: Confessions of a Birth Mother

By Amy Seek,

Book cover of God and Jetfire: Confessions of a Birth Mother

Why this book?

Deciding to place a child for adoption is one of the most excruciating decisions in the human experience. When Amy Seek, a promising architecture student, becomes pregnant, she’s not yet ready to become a parent. But she’s also not ready, completely, to hand over her child to a perfectly lovely family. Her tale of love, heartbreak, and acceptance is a reminder to parents and non-parents of all circumstances that there are lots of ways to make a family—and in this case, it was the best, most perfectly imperfect option. I think this is a really important book for everyone in the adoption triad (birth parents, adoptive parents, adoptees) to read, because it really gets up close and uncomfortably personal with the struggle some birth mothers undergo, despite the unlimited love they have for their babies. 

Instant Mom

By Nia Vardalos,

Book cover of Instant Mom

Why this book?

First of all, Nia Vardalos is just hilarious. She could write an Ikea assembly brochure and it would probably be side-splitting. But in the book, she tells about being a rising star (a great story on its own) who had it all – except a baby. After a grueling battle with infertility, she eventually came around to the idea of adoption, and started to learn more about the fost-adopt process of taking an older child who is unlikely to reunite with their original family. With great heart, she tells the roller-coaster story of bringing a 3-year-old with attachment challenges into her life—and the inevitable universality of motherhood. “Nothing prepared me for the life I would feel for my child. Nothing prepared me for how quickly it happened for me. And here’s what I just figure out now: no one is ever prepared. In a way, we’re all instant moms.” She’s just so good.

Everything You Ever Wanted: A Memoir

By Jillian Lauren,

Book cover of Everything You Ever Wanted: A Memoir

Why this book?

In this exquisitely written poem of a memoir, Jillian Lauren splays her heart wide open, on every page as she transforms from an addict whose used up most of her luck to a mother whose role requires great stores of grit, determination, and love. We’re right there with her as she and her husband decide to adopt a boy from Ethiopia, and we’re along for the bumpy, often painful, occasionally joyful, ride through the challenges of parenting this tiny person who has already lost so much, but has so much to give. Outside of motherhood, she’s so funny and interesting I kind of want to be best friends with her. Not in a weirdo-stalker way, though.

5 book lists we think you will like!

Interested in adoption, movie stars, and park rangers?

5,215 authors have recommended their favorite books and what they love about them. Browse their picks for the best books about adoption, movie stars, and park rangers.

Adoption Explore 15 books about adoption
Movie Stars Explore 19 books about movie stars
Park Rangers Explore 10 books about park rangers

And, 3 books we think you will enjoy!

We think you will like American Baby: A Mother, a Child, and the Shadow History of Adoption, The New Don't Blame Mother: Mending the Mother-Daughter Relationship, and Hello from Renn Lake if you like this list.