A biting critique of identity that lampoons genetic ties and ethnic stereotypes.
Debut novelist Stephens begins her story in Seoul, South Korea, where best friends and fellow Korean-American adoptees Mindy and Lisa have gone to find their birthparents with the help of the MotherFinders agency. Lisa is ambivalent about her heritage and too reliant on Mindy to fill the void left by an absentee adoptive father. Lisa struggles with the fact that “the adopted child is a lie, her family a fiction,” and one of the only ways she finds solace is by writing; Mindy suggested long ago that Lisa become a writer, but Lisa hasn’t yet found a way to make it her profession. As the book begins, the two friends are having a falling out over Lisa's partying, and Mindy kicks Lisa out of their hotel room. Lisa continues hanging out with Harrison, the MotherFinders’ uber-handsome fixer, who tricks her into traveling with him. The story takes a strange turn. Lisa is kidnapped and wakes up a prisoner in an extravagant compound, “the captive of a lunatic." She meets a cast of unusual international characters, several of whom look to be plastic surgery test cases; her captor forces her to change her appearance and records her every move. Stephens intersperses each chapter with quotes from famous adoptees, and Lisa’s fixation on the physical characteristics of race and identity twist the idea of ancestry like a fun-house mirror. “Was I, all along, someone else?” Lisa wonders, as she finally meets her mother, the surgically altered and cartoonish Honey LeBaron. Lisa learns that the heavily-surveilled compound is in North Korea, but the bigger surprise is her mother’s revelation about Lisa’s family line. Lisa re-evaluates everything she thought she knew about herself as she tries to unravel “the enigma of Honey, the anti-mother who had reached across the years and the continents to drag me back to her stone-hearted bosom,” and she plots her escape from her mother's lavish, bizarre prison. “I didn’t love her,” she says, ultimately confronting the darkness in herself, “but I recognized her, as familiar to me as my own self.”
The increasing tension and outlandishness of Stephens’ work lends itself to a poignant take on the topic of family.