An adoptee’s memoir of finding his own place in the world.
In this debut, Steffen traces his personal history, revealing layer upon layer of hidden truths as he unravels the stories he’s grown up with. He dates the events in his life from “the disappearance,” when his mother abandoned her three children and left rural Iowa. This event, coupled with his father’s unwillingness to care for his children, was a defining moment in the author’s life, as it led to the Steffen family adopting him and his sister. His stories of growing up with his adoptive parents, who belonged to a strict religious movement and weren’t inclined to show affection, fill this book, as do tales of his own teenage rebellion and gradual maturity. By the time he reached adulthood, Steffen found himself driven by a need to sort out the mysteries of his birth family, and he tracked down surviving relatives and other near-strangers who supplied crucial details. It’s a complex, sometimes-tragic story, and along the way, he slowly builds relationships with half-siblings, aunts, and more distant relatives and discovers new information about his mother and father. Although the narrative moves slowly in the opening chapters, it finds a steady pace after Steffen begins his sleuthing. Readers learn the truth bit by bit, just as the author did, and his personal growth is just as important as the facts he uncovers. Steffen’s descriptions are sharply drawn, particularly of the rural communities he visited during his search: “A first run of American Graffiti or Rocky or Star Wars seemed entirely plausible,” he writes. He also offers insights into his own character (“I have the right to remain silent, but I don’t have the ability”) that will gain readers’ sympathies as he unveils his past and embraces his present.
A compelling story about the author’s biological and adoptive families and how they shaped his sense of self.