Four years ago, Jaden, 12, was adopted from Romania, but he still grieves for the birth mother who abandoned him; accompanying his parents to Kazakhstan to adopt his new brother, Jaden’s confused feelings intensify.
Jaden doesn’t remember his biological mother, and memories of the years between her abandonment and his adoption are vague but horrific. He’s learned to use his passionate interest in electricity to calm himself. After years of therapy, he’s stopped setting fires, but he continues to hoard food and to steal. He recognizes that his behaviors cause his parents pain and exhaustion. In Kazakhstan, everyone’s expectations are upended. As his parents struggle to accept new adoption ground rules, Jaden befriends a toddler and the prickly driver assigned to his family, with whom he finds common ground. Kadohata excels at turning complicated realities into compelling middle-grade fiction, but this is difficult narrative terrain. Children traumatized by abandonment, abuse and neglect; well-intentioned but naïve affluent parents adopting children in impoverished countries where corruption is rife: These subjects challenge adult comprehension. No surprise then that distilling these matters into compact storytelling for young readers proves problematic. Much-needed exposition slows the pace, yet troubling questions remain: Jaden’s parents don’t question the ethics of an adoption that requires paying a facilitator $14,000 in crisp new $100 bills, even after things go wrong.
Despite flaws, a realistic—and much-needed—portrait of older-child adoption. (Fiction. 10-14)