Saturday, May 22, 2010

Adoption: Happiness & Heartbreak

It starts off innocuously enough, as things so often do. A random bit of junk mail--one of those postcards advertising window replacement, or margarita night at the local Tex-Mex joint, or maybe a donation request from the Salvation Army--escapes from an unruly stack of mail and floats free of the rest to land face-up on a little 3-inch by 5-inch section of floor. Most people would just pick up the offending scrap, a little annoyed at having to do so, only to toss it into the recycling bin without further thought. Maybe, if the ad offered a free something-or-other, they’d tack it up on the refrigerator under a magnet shaped like a piece of fruit, where it would remain until the next housecleaning frenzy caused them to gather up all those expired coupons and forgotten shopping lists from the fridge door for disposal. That’s really about the best that most junk-mail senders can hope for: that their unwanted piece of advertising doesn’t immediately go into the trash, but lingers long enough for the recipients to glance at it once or twice in passing.  
But this time... well, this time the situation has a different ending. Single mother Eileen Gleeson, juggling her bag, keys, Chinese takeout, and mail, drops a loose postcard sent out by one of those groups that works to find missing people. Reaching down to snag the wayward “Have you seen me?” ad, she happens to glance at the picture--casually,  out of idle curiosity. (No one really expects to recognize the faces in those ads, do they?) 
Except that this time, in the space of that brief scan, Eileen thinks to herself that she does recognize the face. Her heart stops beating for a few seconds; she wonders if someone could be playing a cruel trick on her. What her eyes convince her brain she has just seen cannot be true. She forces herself to look at the picture again... and determines that yes, the child on the card--a little boy, gone missing from Florida--is the spitting image of her own child. Her adopted little boy, Will, who lives with her in Pennsylvania.
So begins legal-thriller author Lisa Scottoline’s Look Again, a fascinating and compelling look at adoption, the nature of family, and the power of a mother’s love.
Most people would simply put down what they’d seen to coincidence (everyone has a doppelgänger, right?), while a few would be so bothered by the idea that they’d choose to bury any memory of what they’d just seen, somewhere off in the far recesses of their minds, forevermore. Eileen is no different; she argues with herself that it can’t possibly be her child on the card (he lives here, with me! I’ve had him since he was just over a year old!), and that it would be far better to forget ever having seen it, just tossing it in with the rest of the recyclables as she always does. 
But Eileen can’t do that. She’s a reporter, and she specializes in human interest features in the newspaper--often, ones that deal with children. Two years ago she documented, in a popular series in the paper, her own experiences finding and adopting Will, from the first moment she laid eyes on the sick little baby in the hospital (whom she didn’t even know she wanted until she saw him one day, all alone), through all the paperwork and legal stuff, until finally concluding with the happy ending of his recovery. She’s written ongoing articles about missing children--abductees and runaways--in the Philadelphia area. Most recently, she’s been working on a heartbreaking story about a grade-school boy who died of gunshot wounds, another victim of collateral damage in local gang wars. She can’t just ignore the resemblance she noticed; she understands what loss and worry are like for parents, and knows that she couldn’t live with herself if she didn’t look into this.
That way lies madness, though. Eileen becomes obsessed with learning more about the boy on the flyer... at the very worst possible time for her, professionally. Well aware that shunning her duties, disobeying her editor, and missing deadlines--in the middle of cutbacks at the newspaper--could be career suicide, she can’t help herself. Uncovering the truth--is there some relationship between the missing boy and her own son?--becomes the most important thing in her life.
And so she follows the trail, as her obsession merges with desperation. Internet searches, phone calls, personal visits to anyone who might know something--even a fact-finding trip down to Miami to investigate the missing child’s family (a wealthy, handsome couple whose entire neighborhood is full of yellow ribbons, broadcasting the collective hope for the missing Timothy’s eventual return)--all of it leads inexorably to a gut-wrenching decision, a terrifying showdown, and painful truths which must be faced... although, perhaps not quite in the ways we might expect. 
Look Again is a stand-alone book which takes a very different tack than most of Scottoline’s previous novels (the majority of which have revolved around a feisty group of female Philadelphia lawyers). To be honest, I was a little nervous after reading the synopsis; it seemed like such a departure from her regular style (which I’ve always enjoyed), that I wasn’t sure this would click with me. (And, to be even more honest, I’m not usually a big fan of stories involving little kids, which generally take the “sappiness meter” up to eleven on a scale of one to ten, as far as I’m concerned.) I shouldn’t have worried. Although this is definitely a different sort of story for the talented Ms. Scottoline, it proved to be as thoroughly entertaining as the rest of her works. 
Look Again is more than just a gripping thriller, however. The insight it gives into the process of adoption--and the feelings and emotions of the parents involved, both biological and adoptive--is fascinating. At the end of the day (and the end of the book), it is also a poignant story about the nature of love--of parents for children, children for parents, and for the friends in our lives--reassuring us that it’s always the love that really matters.
GlamKitty rating: 4.5 catnip mice (out of 5 possible)


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