There are plenty of books for young children about adoption (I Love You Like Crazy Cakes by Rose Lewis, A Mother for Choco by Keiko Kasza, Happy Adoption Day! by John McCutcheon, etc.) There are plenty of books for adults about adoption (The Open-Hearted Way to Adoption by Lori Holden, Mine in China by Kelly Mayfield, Before We Were Yours by Lisa Wingate, etc.) However, I have noticed that there aren’t a lot of books for teenagers about adoption. Occasionally, I see an adult adoptee write about their life experience from a reflective standpoint–usually through a memoir– but rarely do I ever see adoption books that are aimed specifically at the YA (young adult) demographic. This makes me a bit sad because adoptees at that age are likely to be struggling with their identities—a lot. Between the raging hormones, changing bodies, and wavering emotions, we also have to deal with whatever questions we may have about our own pasts. When we were younger, the concept of adoption was boiled down for us, and for the most part, we were probably able to keep it simple. But as teens, we begin questioning where we come from, our genetics, and what makes us who we are—and we’re only just discovering all of it. So far, I have read one book that finally felt like someone was covering all of that emotional turmoil in a way that I connected with: The Inexplicable Logic of My Life by Benjamin Alire Sáenz.
This book is a YA coming-of-age story about a teenage boy named Salvador (Sal) Silva stumbling through the ups and downs of his last year in high school. He belongs to a rather atypical household, as he was adopted by a single, gay man (Vicente) after his mother died when he was three. Sal’s journey often consists of his struggles with peers’ derogatory remarks, both because of his father’s sexuality and the fact that his adoptive family is Mexican-American—whereas he was born to a Caucasian family. Alongside the identity issues, he also has to balance college applications, his grandma (Mima) receiving a cancer diagnosis, helping his friends, and new revelations about his birth family. Initially, all of this leaves Sal raging with emotional struggles; but eventually, those hardships lead him to accept both his biological and his adoptive family histories.
One of my favorite things about this book is that it took the time to cover multiple issues that adoptees often face, from confusing emotions towards their pasts to the “what ifs” of their identities. Through the eyes of a teenager, we get to see many aspects of transracial adoption such as:
“But you just have to learn to walk away from the wild people who like to growl. They might bite. They might hurt you. Don’t go down that road.”
Anger is a major theme throughout Sal’s story. He gets angry at others who judge his family and even at himself for not being able to figure out his own emotions. I feel like this is an aspect of being an adoptee that rarely gets talked about; I’m glad that this book addressed it in a way that didn’t invalidate the anger, but it encouraged people to find outlets that don’t result in fights. Sal eventually learns this lesson, and it was a beautiful development to read.
2. Mixed Emotions
“Mima says you should never forget where you came from. I get what she’s saying–but that’s a little complicated when you’re adopted. Just because I don’t feel adopted doesn’t mean that I’m not adopted. Most people think they know something important about you if they know where your story began, though.”
This book does a particularly good job of showing just how complicated the thoughts and emotions of adoptees can be. We like being adopted and sometimes we don’t like it– all at once. By the end of the story, Sal definitely feels more at peace with some of these struggles; but to be honest, I bet he doesn’t stop having them. If there were to be a sequel, I would bet that some issues would still crop up. Finding yourself doesn’t really have an endgame.
“Even though I was technically a white boy, I was raised in a Mexican family. So I didn’t qualify as your average white boy…I knew Spanish better than Sam– and she was supposed to be Mexican.”
Interracial adoption comes with its own set of questions—which the book also tackled. For my reading experience, this aspect had an odd dissonance to it because I could understand the core of it, but there were major differences. I’m a Chinese woman who was adopted into a white family, whereas Sal is a white boy who was adopted into a Mexican family. They’re two different experiences, but I still connected with the overall idea of not qualifying in a particular ethnicity.
“It seemed to me that nobody really knew the answer to that question. To my question: what mattered most? What was it that made my engine run– the genetic characteristics I got from my biological father or the characteristics I acquired from my father, the man who raised me?”
I think just about any story that focuses on an adoptee has to touch on this at some point. It’s a debate that has circulated in the community seemingly since the earliest days of adoption. Sal internally struggles with this throughout the whole book in trying to figure out who he is. I won’t spoil which conclusion Sal comes to at the end, but it was definitely satisfying to see him come to it.
5. “Real” Parents
“‘You’re like your dad, you know that? I mean, I know he’s not your real–’”
“‘Yes, he is.’”
It’s a simple, two-sentence discussion. Yet, I appreciated it so much. So often, adoptees will get comments like this. How our parents are not “really” our parents because the biological component is missing. I love that Sal’s response is short and direct—since the answer really isn’t any more complicated than that. Yes, they are our parents.
6. What if’s
“‘I don’t know what would have happened to me if Dad hadn’t adopted me– but I do know that I wouldn’t have this life. And it’s the only life I know.’”
Those of us in the adoption community often have a multitude of “what if” questions. What if I’d been adopted by someone else? What if I’d never been placed for adoption? What if things had been different? As much as we like to speculate, the truth is we will probably never know. We can’t go backward, we can only move forward with the lives we know now. I like the way Sal’s journey gets to this point: where he learns to embrace his life as it is rather than how it might have been.
“And I did belong to them, and I wasn’t going to let anybody tell me otherwise.”
As adoptees, our sense of belonging is often questioned. Especially for those of us who are part of interracial adoptions who often question whether we can belong to a culture that we didn’t grow up in. Regardless, we will always have a place in our families. We find our own ways to belong. Not to be a spoiler, but Sal eventually realizes this too, and I love that.
I will admit, the book isn’t perfect (though what book is?) The author’s use of teenage texting can often use some work. As someone who read this as a teenager, I remember cringing at his attempts to replicate the way we communicate via text. So, if that is something that bothers you, I’m sorry. However, that’s about the only part I disliked. I still recommend this book to any teenage adoptee looking for something to relate to. The Inexplicable Logic of My Life touched my soul in a way that other adoption books so far have not, and if you felt a connection to any of this I think it will be worth the read.