The best books about adopted children

1 authors have picked their favorite books about adopted children and why they recommend each book.

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Divisadero

By Michael Ondaatje,

Book cover of Divisadero

Although it begins in California, this novel develops into a story set in France. Two sisters, separated by their father after a violent incident, search for each other and eventually connect via a French recluse, whose life one sister is researching. I love Michael Ondaatje’s writing and this book in particular for its daring sweep of geographical and emotional territory. 


Who am I?

I’m fascinated by these themes – love, France, mystery, women’s lives, war, and peace. My parents took me to France when I was 12 and I’ve spent years there in between and go back whenever I can. I started reading in French when sent to be an au pair in Switzerland when I was 17. My own novel, The Lost Love Letters Of Henri Fournier was absorbing to write as it contains all of the above. I found an unpublished novel of Fournier’s in a village in rural France a few years ago and decided I had to write about him and his lover, Pauline, who was a famous French actress. 


I wrote...

The Lost Love Letters of Henri Fournier

By Rosalind Brackenbury,

Book cover of The Lost Love Letters of Henri Fournier

What is my book about?

Seb Fowler has arrived in Paris to research his literary idol, Henri Fournier. It begins with an interview granted by a woman whose affair with the celebrated writer trails back to World War I. The enchanting Pauline is fragile, but her memories are alive―those of an illicit passion, of the chances she took and never regretted, and of the twists of fate that defined her unforgettable love story.

Through Pauline’s love letters, her secrets, and a lost Fournier manuscript, Seb will come to learn so much more―about Pauline, Henri, and himself. For Seb, every moment of Pauline’s past proves to be more inspiring than he could have imagined. She’s given him the courage to grab hold of whatever life offers, to cherish each risk, and to pursue love in his life.

Unnatural Selection

By Andrea Ross,

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

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.


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.

Silas Marner

By George Eliot,

Book cover of Silas Marner

I first encountered Silas Marner, as I did so many other great stories, in the form of a Classics Illustrated comic. I liked it well enough, but avoided the novel for decades, assuming it would be maudlin. Not so. It’s very realistic and very moving. Middlemarch is considered Eliot's masterpiece, and I've tried it a couple of times but couldn't really warm to it--even though it, too, features an orphan! Marner, on the other hand, drew me in right away. (Maybe I should try the Classics Illustrated version of Middlemarch?)  


Who am I?

Though I’m not personally an orphan, I’ve always been drawn to books that feature them. Maybe it’s because I felt the lack of a father; mine wasn’t around much during my childhood, since he worked at a job in the city through the week. The absent or distant father is a recurring theme in my novels, including the Shakespeare Stealer series, Moonshine, The Imposter, The Year of the Hangman, and Curiosity. Of course, when you write for young readers, orphans also make ideal protagonists, since they’re forced to use their own resources to confront and resolve the story’s conflict, rather than relying on grownups.


I wrote...

Curiosity

By Gary Blackwood,

Book cover of Curiosity

What is my book about?

Intrigue, danger, chess, and a real-life hoax combine in this historical novel from the author of The Shakespeare Stealer.

Philadelphia, PA, 1835. Rufus, a twelve-year-old chess prodigy, is recruited by a shady showman named Maelzel to secretly operate a mechanical chess player called the Turk. The Turk wows ticket-paying audience members and players, who do not realize that Rufus, the true chess master, is hidden inside the contraption. But Rufus’s job working the automaton must be kept secret, and he fears he may never be able to escape his unscrupulous master. And what has happened to the previous operators of the Turk, who seem to disappear as soon as Maelzel no longer needs them? Creeping suspense, plenty of mystery, and cameos from Edgar Allan Poe and P. T. Barnum mark Gary Blackwood’s triumphant return to middle-grade fiction.

J. M. Barrie & the Lost Boys

By Andrew Birkin,

Book cover of J. M. Barrie & the Lost Boys

Okay, this isn’t exactly about pirates, but it is about children who play at pirating and whose summer adventures with an author named Barrie inspired him to write his play Peter Pan. The children were George, Jack, Peter (and later Michael and Nico) Llewelyn-Davis, and they became the center of Barrie’s creative life. “I have no recollection of having written Peter Pan,” he later wrote. “He belongs rather to the five without whom he never would have existed and the play is streaky with them still. I suppose I made him by rubbing the five of them violently together, as savages with two sticks produce a flame. That is all he is, the spark I got from my boys.”

When I first read this book I had to put it down at the end of nearly every chapter – because I was sobbing and my tears made it impossible…


Who am I?

Peter Pan was the first book I remember being read to me when I was four. At the age of thirty-two, I discovered the real J.M. Barrie. I read everything I could of Barrie’s and even wrote a one-person play about him. This led me to discover R.L. Stevenson, Treasure Island, and the world of (fictional) pirates. On a visit my wife and I made to Robinson Crusoe Island, I came to believe (through deductive logic and vivid imagination) that this was the three-dimensional embodiment of Neverland. Barrie always envisioned himself as Hook, and though I longed to be Peter, I fear that my soul was a pirate’s soul. Hence Hook’s Tale. 


I wrote...

Hook's Tale: Being the Account of an Unjustly Villainized Pirate Written by Himself

By John Leonard Pielmeier,

Book cover of Hook's Tale: Being the Account of an Unjustly Villainized Pirate Written by Himself

What is my book about?

The subtitle says it all. Hook’s Tale concerns the autobiographical adventures of a 14-year-old boy (and later infamous pirate) in search of his lost father. He discovers a treasure map left to him by his missing parent which leads him to a mysterious archipelago where people do not age and from which there appears to be no escape. There he befriends a marooned buccaneer with a scythe, adopts a baby crocodile he names Daisy, and encounters a boy named Peter who has no understanding of Time. He battles monsters, falls in love with a princess, loses a hand, and eventually discovers the unexpected treasure hidden in this astonishing place. Eventually, he comes to understand the importance of growing up, growing old, and accepting mortality. 

American Baby

By Gabrielle Glaser,

Book cover of American Baby: A Mother, a Child, and the Shadow History of Adoption

The dedication of this non-fiction book says, "...to all families separated by a culture of secrecy.” The book flap says, “Gabrielle Glaser breaks the secrecy that surrounded a lucrative network of adoption agencies, doctors, and social scientists.” One reason I knew I had to read this book was that it talked about Louise Wise Agency, the adoption agency I was adopted through. They are now closed, but their practices have since come under scrutiny. Because of their methods, I was told lies that I lived with for most of my childhood and was kept from reuniting with my siblings when they first started searching for me.


Who am I?

I went into foster care at nine months old, was adopted three years later, and as an adult I was reunited with five siblings I never knew I had. I’ve spent my whole life wondering or searching for the truths about my past. 


I wrote...

The Name She Gave Me

By Betty Culley,

Book cover of The Name She Gave Me

What is my book about?

Rynn was born with a hole in her heart—literally. Although it was fixed long ago, she still feels an emptiness there when she wonders about her birth family. As her relationship with her adoptive mother fractures, Rynn finally decides she needs to know more about the rest of her family. Her search starts with a name, the only thing she has from her birth mother, and she quickly learns that she has a younger sister living in foster care in a nearby town. But if Rynn reconnects with her biological sister, it may drive her adoptive family apart for good.

This powerful story uncovers both beautiful and heartbreaking truths and explores how challenging, yet healing, family can be.

The Love That Split the World

By Emily Henry,

Book cover of The Love That Split the World

This book is small town Americana at its best—and at its strangest, and most magical. It reflects on the bittersweet moments after high school in a rural Kentucky town. When our main character starts seeing strange things that aren’t really there (or are they?) and she meets a mysterious boy, her entire future may change forever. It’s like a surrealist Friday Night Lights, full of heart and destiny and the paths not taken.


Who am I?

I grew up in a small town myself and have always loved books that create characters from the setting. I want to feel immersed and captivated by the place, as well as the people and stories within the pages. The setting of an eerie small town is one of my favorites, because of the feeling that anything magical or mysterious could happen there. My book Starling takes place in a strange small town where odd things are everyday occurrences. There are many books that use small towns as setting for a speculative story, but these are some of my favorites!


I wrote...

Starling

By Isabel Strychacz,

Book cover of Starling

What is my book about?

Strange things have always happened in the small town of Darling... Yet Delta Wilding and her sister Bee are familiar with the peculiar. Raised by an eccentric father always on the hunt for the spectacular, they’re used to odd occurrences. But when a mysterious boy falls from the stars into the woods behind their house, nothing can prepare them for the extraordinary turn their lives are about to take. Extraordinary and dangerous.

Starling Rust is not from this world and his presence brings attention. Delta and her sister must go to incredible lengths to protect their mystical visitor—especially as Delta’s growing feelings for the boy from the stars could prove the greatest risk of all.

Tropic of Violence

By Nathacha Appanah,

Book cover of Tropic of Violence

I was immediately engaged in the story of a nurse who follows a man to Mayotte and, unable to conceive, adopts a child whom she brings up by herself after the man abandons her. She dies abruptly, however, and the story changes completely, turning into an intense, violent novel about children in the slums. The orphan who fled after his mother's death is horribly abused by another young teenager who is a gang leader, and can free himself only by killing him in the end. I am in awe of Nathacha Appanah for her ability to capture the voice of street children. This is a poignant, powerful, and beautifully written novel about harassment, cruelty, and possession. 


Who am I?

I am a French novelist, the author of fifteen novels, many of which are memoirs, so I am considered a specialist of "autofiction" in France, of fiction written about oneself. But I also love writing about others, as you can see in my novel on David Hockney. Beauvoir, Sarraute and Ernaux were my models, Laurens and Appanah are my colleagues. Three of the books I picked would be called memoirs in the States, and the other two novels. In France, they are in the same category. All these women write beautifully about childhood and womanhood. I love their writing because it is both intimate and universal, full of emotion, but in a very sober and precise style. 


I wrote...

Life of David Hockney

By Catherine Cusset, Teresa Fagan (translator),

Book cover of Life of David Hockney

What is my book about?

A biography written like a novel, Life of David Hockney offers an insightful overview of a painter whose art is as accessible as it is compelling. Born in 1937 in the North of England, Hockney had to fight to become an artist and moved to the States in the sixties. A figurative painter when abstract art was in fashion, he became very successful before the age of 40 but continued experimenting with new forms, including technology. Even during the AIDS epidemic years, his passion to create was never deterred by heartbreak, illness, or loss. This meticulously researched novel draws an intimate, moving portrait of the most famous British painter alive.

The Perks of Loving a Wallflower

By Erica Ridley,

Book cover of The Perks of Loving a Wallflower

I just finished reading this book and if you love witty banter then run don’t walk to grab this. I think it may very well feature the very best banter I’ve yet to read in a historical romance. And the banter is not just between the two heroines! No, Erica Ridley has written in an entire Umbrella Academy-esque family of rogueish, rascally siblings who live double lives. On the one hand, they manage to be an accepted part of the Regency ton (good society) and on the other they’re more comfortable on the rough and tumble streets, doing daring feats of rescue and other good deeds.

Did I mention there are baby hedgehogs? And a mission to bring down the patriarchy?


Who am I?

I grew up in a religion and family where being gay was most definitely more than frowned upon. Now as a queer author and parent (and former academic who studied queer lit and video games!), I’m thrilled to be bringing a “book baby” into the world during Pride Month that is pure historical romantic fantasy in which two women embrace who they are and one another. When I first started reading queer fiction, much of it was gritty and realistic, sure, but also extremely grim. I think we desperately need a balance of the grim and the gleeful and that is what I hope this little list gives you! Happy endings are possible in fiction and reality. Happy Pride Month, dear readers! 


I wrote...

The Bluestocking Beds Her Bride

By Fenna Edgewood,

Book cover of The Bluestocking Beds Her Bride

What is my book about?

Some call Fleur Warburton cold and hard-hearted. Even ruthless. Scarred by a traumatic past that destroyed her family, Fleur believes she has found the man ultimately responsible for her unhappy fate and is out for vengeance. But when the beautiful Lady Julia Pembroke gets in her way, Fleur is soon entangled in a scandal of a different sort. With Julia by her side, Fleur enters a world of tempestuous desires and rebellious hearts.

This Heavy Silence

By Nicole Mazzarella,

Book cover of This Heavy Silence

Single and self-sufficient Dottie O’Connell farms her 300 acres with strength and independence, not needing anyone. When she finds herself the primary caretaker to her friend’s young daughter Mattie after the girl is orphaned by a tragic fire, Dottie suddenly is thrust into guardianship with a young person she had no desire to raise. While I admired Dottie for taking on such a life-changing responsibility, at times I couldn’t fathom Dottie’s choices involving the girl. Thankfully, the author peels away the layers of Dottie’s wounds, allowing us at least to understand her while maybe not agreeing with her. Each of us has a Dottie story that influences our decisions for good or for bad. 


Who am I?

Because of the presence of my four beloved grandparents throughout my growing up years, (all four of my grandparents even attended my wedding), I’ve always enjoyed relationships with older people. My comfort with older people translates into my friendships where many of the women in my life are quite a bit older than me. These intergenerational relationships offer wisdom and experience that informs my own life. I hold an M.F.A. in Creative Writing and have written one novel for adults and one for middle-grade readers. My past jobs include being a television engineer, an adjunct professor, and a publishing professional.


I wrote...

The Forgotten Life of Eva Gordon

By Linda MacKillop,

Book cover of The Forgotten Life of Eva Gordon

What is my book about?

Eva wants to run away from her life—if only she could remember how. Failing memory has forced Eva Gordon to move in with her granddaughter, Breezy, but Eva hates the bustle of Boston. She just wants to move back to quiet Cape Cod and be left alone. Then Breezy announces she's getting married, and they'll be moving to her new husband's rundown family farm, where he lives with an elderly uncle. 

It's all too much for Eva, but as her desire for privacy collides with her worsening memory, Eva finds herself in a poignant, hilarious, and intergenerational rescue effort to save her from herself. Can an unlikely cast of misfit characters step in to woo Eva from self-imposed isolation?

Anne of Green Gables

By L.M. Montgomery,

Book cover of Anne of Green Gables

I have been an eccentric my whole life. As a child, I had an adult soul. Nobody, including my parents, recognized this. So I felt as if I didn’t fit anywhere. Then I discovered Anne Shirley. The kindred spirit to my soul. She knew “big words.” Her heart was vulnerable, so her spirit was brave. I read that book so many times, the binding split. Anne Shirley was the first fictional character that resonated with me, and I have carried her with me ever since. I named my daughter Anne.


Who am I?

As a novelist, I focus on the characters in my books, and the plot is woven around them. I'm a people-watcher, and I remember bits and pieces of the folks I observe—many of which find their way into my novels. As a reader, plot pulls me in, but it is the characters that I remember. As a novelist, I always begin with a cast of characters: I start with a physical quirk, a personality flaw, an offbeat way of seeing things. Then I add a plot. For me, plot is the hardest. There are hundreds of characters swimming around in my imagination (see my first book, Characters in Search of a Novel).


I wrote...

The World Came to Us

By Molly D. Campbell,

Book cover of The World Came to Us

What is my book about?

Tommy Poole and her mother Meg have decided to become recluses together. Not forever; only for a year. And not at night when the dog needs to be walked. In the midst of their grief over the loss of Tommy’s other mother, Sam, shutting themselves away seems the only viable way to recovery. 

However, while they have decided to step away from the world, the world has not made the same decision. Soon, Tommy’s best friend is living with them. And the crotchety neighbor is making their lives miserable. And when a teenaged girl with a troubled past and an indignant future enters their orbit, life might be as full for Tommy and Meg as it has been for years. And that was before the wedding…

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