“Any Other Family,” by Eleanor Brown (Putnam)
Four years ago, Colorado author Eleanor Brown adopted a son. That experience made her realize “how little we understand the complexities of adoption and adoptive families… . I wanted to write a story to encourage conversation and raise questions about those topics,” she writes in an author’s note.
Brown has done just that. “Any Other Family” tells of the challenges of adopting infants and older children, of blending families and of the guilt and frustration of women feel in not being able to conceive a child of their own. It’s both funny and sad as it delves into hidden issues involving adoption.
Brown is right: This novel will result in difficult conversations.
“Any Other Family” centers around two couples and a single woman who adopt the four children of an unmarried woman and her boyfriend. Brianna, the natural mother, isn’t equipped to raise her offspring, while her partner, Justin, has no sense of responsibility. The children are split up when the grandmother who has raised them dies.
Phoebe, the oldest, is adopted by Ginger, a single woman, while younger twins Taylor and Tate go to a wealthy older couple, Tabitha and Perry. When Brianna gets pregnant a third time, Tabitha arranges for another couple, Elizabeth and John, to take the infant, named Violet. Realizing the siblings should remain as much a family as possible, they form a unique unit, a family that is not like any other. They attend weekly Sunday dinners and celebrate birthdays, holidays and special occasions together.
As the book begins, they all gather in Aspen for a two-week vacation, orchestrated by Tabitha. Well-meaning but controlling, Tabitha plans a vacation jammed with hikes, horseback rides, campfires and even a spa day for the mothers.
Then Brianna phones and — surprise! — she’s pregnant again and wants one of the families to adopt the baby.
Ginger is out. Tabitha is too old. That leaves Elizabeth, who also refuses. What the others don’t understand is that Elizabeth hates being the mother of an infant. She bears a load of guilt, not to mention financial debt, for all the pre-Violet fertility treatments that didn’t work. Moreover, her husband just lost his job.
While managing the vacation activities and preparing gourmet snacks and meals, Tabitha scurries around trying to solve everyone’s problems. Ginger’s worried that Phoebe’s new school, located near Tabitha, is too far away. No problem. Tabitha insists on providing after-school care, then calls a realtor to find a house for Ginger. Then Tabitha sets her sights on Elizabeth. After persuading Perry to offer John a job, Tabitha takes Elizabeth for a pedicure. Problems solved, right? Tabitha is stunned when the other two women confront her over her meddling.
While Brown explores the challenges that both Tabitha and Phoebe face adopting older children, it is her look at Elizabeth’s situation that is especially sympathetic. Elizabeth and John owe $100,000 for fertility treatments that didn’t work. Elizabeth is angry and guilty that she didn’t become pregnant. And while she desperately loves the colicky Violet, she is exhausted and convinced she is not cut out to be a mother.
Little surprise she resents the group’s attempt to pressure her into taking Brianna’s next baby. Her refusal leaves the others scrambling to find another couple who will fit into their complex family.
Adoption today is a complicated process. There’s no surplus of unwanted babies waiting to be snapped up. Prospective parents must look at a variety of options to find children — fertility treatments, foreign adoption agencies, special-needs children. Birth mothers and sometimes fathers want to remain in their offsprings’ lives.
In an absorbing and entertaining book, Brown challenges parents to face the complexities of adoption today.