Book Review: Sherrie Eldridge Returns
by Sarah O'Neill
You have probably read, or at least heard of, Sherrie Eldridge's groundbreaking book Twenty Things Adopted Kids Wish Their Adoptive Parents Knew. First arriving on the scene in hardcover in 1999, Twenty Things... was a book advocating adoptive parents' active role in their child's growth towards becoming a healthy and complete person; a role that includes parents in their child's process of adoption-related loss acknowledgement, grieving, and healing. The method used to present the author's ideas, speaking from the adoptee point of view directly to his or her proverbial adoptive parents, is both surprising and effective. It actively includes and engages both parties in a healthy acknowledgement of adopteerelated loss, the processes of both grieving and coping, and the process of building and strengthening the adoptive family, while at the same time does not negate the role and effect of the biological family on the adoptee's growth, thoughts, and life. Eldridge presents a strong twenty-point list of informative, empathetic statements that each head a chapter explaining the basis of the statement, how it manifests in the adoptee's personal and family life, and suggestions regarding how each concern or issue may be addressed.
This year, a new book by the same author has arrived. Sherrie Eldridge's new book, Twenty Life-Transforming Choices Adoptees Need To Make, takes her previous book's list-based style and moves its audience from that of the adoptive parents to that of the adoptee. She employs her list, each point followed up by a chapter of explanation and anecdotes, to discuss how adoptees can address the hurt and loss in their own lives in order to feel, heal, and lead the healthy and fulfilling lives they want and deserve. Special emphasis in the book centers on facing and feeling painful emotions as part of the process to address personal feelings of loss, betrayal, insufficiency, etc. The list itself is, overall, as strong and illuminating as the author's previous list and the author's positive outlook on both grief and healing is reassuring.
However, this new book does have two prominent weaknesses which the reader receives and understands the book and that have the potential to undermine the effectiveness of the author's message. Both of these, I believe, are due to assumptions the author has made regarding her audience. First, Eldridge assumes that her adoptee audience comes from a Christian-element based religious background. She does not phrase her discussions of the role of faith in the healing process to encompass all religious groups and affiliations, and the strong Christian tone and language seems to exclude individuals of other religions and spiritual paths. Second, the author assumes that her plan is best for all adoptees, despite their backgrounds and emotional, physical, and psychological existences. Her steamrollering I-did-it-therefore- so-can-you attitude, while at times exciting and reassuring, can be frustrating and seems to overlook the range of personalities, backgrounds, and environments possessed by the global adoptee population, as well as these individuals' differences in coping, grieving, and healing processes. At times the push inherent in her writing style seems to forget about the range of adoptee experiences, in their interactions (or lack thereof) with adoptive family, biological family, and the search process itself.
While these weaknesses do not negate the book's message and intentions, it is important that the reader is aware of these weaknesses prior to reading the book. This is especially true for those like myself, who enjoyed Eldridge's first book so much, so that he or she will not be surprised, alarmed, or put off when these elements begin to surface. However, most of these potential problems prominently appear only in the second half of the book. The first half of the book, which I would argue is the strongest and most universal part of the list, is a worthy read in and of itself.
Sarah is a Korean born adoptee who graduated from Smith College in June 2003.