petite anglaise

January 14, 2007

The Adoption

Filed under: adoption — petiteanglaiseparis @ 9:53 pm

Books about adoption, whether fiction or memoir, hold a special fascination for me, and always will. Some of my own experiences as an adoptee are documented in the “adoption” category of this blog.

Which is why Dave Hill’s book “The Adoption” caught my attention. Dave, a fellow Brit and blogger, has become a virtual friend and a fascinating “inside source” on the weird and wonderful world of publishing.

The basic premise of “The Adoption” is as follows: a couple who realise they are too old to have any more children (and who already, in fact, have three of their own: two teens, and a younger son at primary school) decide to apply to adopt another child in order to complete their family. Given the dearth of newborns available for adoption, they are offered the opportunity to care for Jody, a three-year-old who has lived with a string of different foster parents since being removed from the care of her young, alcoholic mother by social services.

Told from the point of view of all the members of the family in turn, including Jody herself (who is, of course, Tadpole’s age), I found “The Adoption” incredibly honest and illuminating. The characters rang astonishingly true, and for the first time, I think, I fully appreciated what a minefield bringing up several children represents, and how complex the interaction of family members can be. Welcoming a newcomer into the fold creates tensions, both exacerbating existing problems and creating new ones. I found myself on tenterhooks, wondering whether ultimately Jane had bitten off more than she could chew.

I also found myself dreading Tadpole’s teenage years, as Dave Hill’s descriptions of the teenage daughter, Lorna, brought back vivid memories of some of the despicable things I once said to my own mother under the influence of raging hormones.

The following is a short extract, a scene which takes place shortly after Jody’s arrival at her new home.

Her name was Jody: Jody Jones.

Jane knew that three-year-olds are leaving babyhood behind. They may still get scared by strange noises or imaginary beasts, and may still cling to comfort blankets. But mostly they are becoming sociable. They begin to enjoy the company of other children; they like to laugh and act daft; they start to grasp the shocking truth that grown-ups cannot read their minds and sometimes need to have things explained. Times passage, too, begins to have meaning. They start to talk about the future and the past.

The past: Jody’s past; the mental space from which it was Jane’s mission to rescue her. Jody got slowly to her feet.

‘Come on, Jody. Let me give you a hug.’ Jane held out her arms. Jody stepped into them, keeping hold of the doll and leaving Grandpa’s Handkerchief behind. Jane lifted her up, shocked by her lightness yet almost breathless with the weight of responsibility. ‘Let’s find the others, shall we?’ she said.”

Once I’d finished “The Adoption“, I sent it as a gift to another blogger I have never met, but often corresponded with, who is in the process of applying to adopt a young child himself.

Such a vast place, the internet, and yet such a small world at the same time.


  1. Okay. Time to hold my hand up… I am the blogger Petite mentions :)

    I read the book while commuting into London over the last week, and have mixed feelings about it.

    The first part, about the problems the couple had conceiving hit home a bit too closely for comfort – more than once on the train I had to stop reading, and wipe away a tear.

    Later, the chunk of the story about the days following the placement of Jody with the family was fascinating. It’s the territory we are heading towards, and the area we have been trained to deal with.

    Which neatly leads on to the bit the book doesn’t mention – and it’s a significant chunk of the story. Before you are “cleared” to adopt in the UK, you have to jump through many, many hoops. Friends have wondered why – and we did initially, until we read various books, and attended the adoption preparation groups (which I think are mandatory, if you were wondering).

    If you adopt, you will normally receive a child (or children) that is damaged in some way. They will probably have developmental problems, social problems, and attachment issues. You can never “fix” all of these things, although you can go a long way to helping deal with them. The hoops we have had to jump through have pre-armed us.

    I can understand why the book doesn’t cover it, because unless you are in the middle of the adoption situation it’s not the most riveting subject in the world.

    Overall the book is great though. It tries to fit in as many aspects of “an adoption” as it can, and does pretty well. The fact that it could cause a few tears even from me is probably praise enough.

    Comment by Jonathan — January 14, 2007 @ 10:08 pm

  2. It’s also worth pointing out that 12 months after our first approach to social services, we are still a long way from having our house turned upside down…

    All of our criminal records checks and so on have been done, our family and friends have been surveyed – and some may get interviewed, and we are about to embark on the run-in towards a review board where we go in front of about 12 people (police, magistrate, doctor, social worker, adopter, adoptee, etc…) to make the final decision on “if we can adopt”.

    None of this is in the book.

    Perhaps I should write in my blog about all this stuff – the only thing that stops me from doing it is the thought that it might harm our chances…

    Comment by Jonathan — January 14, 2007 @ 10:14 pm

  3. Sounds very interesting, if it’s worth your praise then I’m sur eit’s worth checking out.
    Brilliantly written and lovely to read always xxxxxx

    Comment by Jo the waiter — January 14, 2007 @ 10:34 pm

  4. I have issue with the word “damaged.” It makes it sound like a piece of merchandise that you need to return. Perhaps I’m a little sensitive about the topic as well. I was put up for adoption at the tender old age of eight by my well meaning grandparents. The couple who had taken custody of me through guardenship meant to adopt me, but eventually I moved back in with another biological parent.

    In a way it was a mixed blessing, for all I heard from my guardians was “we wouldn’t have so many problems if you were a baby” All I knew was that my grandparents thought I was perfect before, but somehow for this couple I wasn’t enough to fill that void. I was a straight A student and popular in school, yet for them I would always miss the mark. The bottom line…the attachment disorder went both ways. I wasn’t theirs, and I did have memories and emotions from my birth family. But a child is not a dog or a broken vase. You get a little person.

    Comment by Sam — January 14, 2007 @ 11:24 pm

  5. Hop, added to my to-be-read pile (or pillar, rather). I wish adopting a child for gays and lesbians could be easier. Hopefully it’ll get easier as time goes by–or I’ll just move to gray Brussels.

    J’en profite pour dire that I appreciate your blog very much, it’s such a humane, enjoyable reading! I hope this year will be profitable, especially in the Mr. Petite area.

    Comment by Bruno — January 14, 2007 @ 11:43 pm

  6. Petite,

    How were you affected when you discovered you were adopted? what was your reaction? Does it affect you now? Eg.. Trusting relationship etc etc….

    Comment by simon — January 15, 2007 @ 12:14 am

  7. Isn’t it great when you find a book that really touches you? I found myself really connecting with Moab Is My Washpot by Stephen Fry last year. Really spoke to me and gave me interesting insights into aspects of myself and my life as a grew up.

    Books are still a fantastic medium, even in this day and age.

    Comment by Ignorminious — January 15, 2007 @ 12:49 am

  8. Simon,

    I did cover some of that ground in the adoption posts two years ago, which I linked to above (or click the category below the post title).

    The rest I prefer to keep private, as I draw the line at airing family matters on the internet, especially since my anonymity was compromised back in July.

    Comment by petite — January 15, 2007 @ 1:05 am

  9. It’s nice to find a book that you can relate to, and after your recommendation I will add this to my reading pile.
    Its just a shame that for me course books such as Maupassant and Flaubert have to come first.

    Comment by gerbil — January 15, 2007 @ 1:14 am

  10. Sorry for using the term “damaged” – I often find myself using words that I later regret.

    I guess the point I was trying to get across (and doing rather badly with) is that from our experience so far, prospective adoptive parents are now forced to confront the issues – both for the children, themselves, and both families before getting anywhere near a placement.

    It’s all done to hopefully protect children from further trauma if at all possible.

    This is a point I would never have dreamed I would make a year ago – defending the state, the red tape, and the hoops we are jumping through in order to be approved to adopt.

    I could mention Madonna here, but I won’t…

    Comment by Jonathan — January 15, 2007 @ 1:34 am

  11. Just want to say I got a very thoughtful response from Jonathan and I thank him for it. It’s obvious that he will be just as thoughtful and loving as a parent and I hope that he and his partner, wife, etc. are matched up with child that will bring even more love into their lives.

    Comment by Sam — January 15, 2007 @ 2:26 am

  12. Sam, and Petite, if you like, offer a word you might prefer to “damaged.” Glad for your points of view. Thanks.

    Comment by kristen — January 15, 2007 @ 2:35 am

  13. read it. I understand.

    Comment by simon — January 15, 2007 @ 5:26 am

  14. Ignorminious

    Thanks for bringing up Stephen Fry. I have followed his career for ages; from his hosting the BAFTA’s to his severe bouts with depression, a truly amazing human. I need to make his book the next on my list.


    Comment by Chez.Rosbif — January 15, 2007 @ 5:56 am

  15. Petite

    I, for one, hate to play editor, especially to you … but for the first time EVER, I noticed a typo in your blog! First para of todays Adoption posting … missing “my”.


    Comment by Chez.Rosbif — January 15, 2007 @ 5:58 am

  16. Good on you petite, the small internet community can often invade, I have almost been outed several times, it’s not good, and my bloggees know too much about me already!

    I will order the book, I need a new read. Thanks


    Comment by Billygean — January 15, 2007 @ 9:02 am

  17. Very touching, Petite. I guess I never noticed the “adoption” category on your blog or that I have not read enough of your archived posts to know that you were adopted.

    I have a friend here who discovered his birth mother a few years ago. It truly shook up his life and changed his relationship with his adoptive mother, for the worse, I fear.

    There is so much emotion tied to adoption ….

    Comment by Lost in France — January 15, 2007 @ 9:36 am

  18. Hello Petite and everyone else. I’m very grateful that my novel has been given some exposure and a recommendation here and I’m impressed by the quality of the comments. I ought to address the point Jonathan makes about my missing out much of the detail of the “clearance hoops” he mentions. In fact, the story does go over some of that ground in flashbacks, describing meetings with social workers, the parents visiting the home of Jody’s foster parents and so on. However, it’s a partial account and, aside from performing the neccesary narrative task of bringing readers up to date, the flashbacks are largely a device to give those readers more insight into the characters and histories of the parents and their relationship rather than to illuminate the adoption process itself.

    I didn’t want to to dwell on the detail of that hoop-jumping period Jonathan describes for a few reasons. One was simply that every account of the process I read or heard seemed different from all the others and I became worried that whatever fictional version I settled on would strike large numbers of readers as simply wrong! Also, I was concerned that the novel would end up being judged on its effectiveness (or otherwise) as a polemic against adoption bureaucracy, and there are already plenty of those about.

    Mostly, though, I leap-frogged that stage because the aspect of adoption that interested me most was the process of a family – a nice and generally happy liberal metropolitan one in this case – adjusting to the arrival of a newcomer in their midst one, moreover, about whom very little was known as is often the case with children who’ve experienced neglect. How would this silent and mysterious three year-old alter the chemistry of the family? How would each of its members react to her presence? Would Jody make the mother (Jane) happy in the way both she and her husband desperately hoped?

    I’ve no doubt that a good novel could be written that concentrated more closely on the clearance and vetting processes involved with adoption, but it seemed to me that I could make a better job of writing about what happened before and after that. I hope that one advantage of this has been to make the novel one which addresses themes that will be familiar to anyone who’s ever been a parent or a child (the latter being a particularly inclusive category!), not only those who’ve experienced adoption from one perspective or another. Many of the emotional themes I try to get a handle on in The Adoption are commonplace in the lives of all types of family. From my point of view the beauty of the adoption element of the story was that it helped to dramatise these themes and bring them into sharper focus.

    Thanks for your time. Maybe I’ll drop in again later.

    Comment by Dave Hill — January 15, 2007 @ 11:27 am

  19. I began reading the book last night. It brought back memories of meeting my adopted sister for the first time; a 2 year old slurping cornflakes at the breakfast table, golden curls and stunning green eyes. Her mother never wanted her and her father chose work over his daughter and so my mother and father took her on as their own. She is now 19 years old and has just completed a degree in speech therapy and I am dead proud of her!

    Comment by aminah — January 15, 2007 @ 11:57 am

  20. “Once I’d finished “The Adoption“, I sent it as a gift to another blogger I have never met, but often corresponded with, who is in the process of applying to adopt himself.”

    I also tried to adopt myself but failed the vetting process! ;-)

    Comment by Hank — January 15, 2007 @ 6:38 pm

  21. Just wanted to say thanks to Dave for explaining the reasoning behind the decisions he made in choosing which elements of the story to focus on in his book.

    It is a cracking book, and I would recommend it to anybody.

    I loved the part where Jane attends the parenting group, and is mentally tearing everybody else to shreds – and (of course) gets many of the people very wrong indeed…

    Comment by Jonathan — January 15, 2007 @ 7:00 pm

  22. Thanks for mentioning this book… friends of mine are ready to adopt a baby from Vietnam and I’ll give the book to them as a present.

    Comment by Veerle — January 15, 2007 @ 9:47 pm

  23. After you finish reading (and loving) ‘The Adoption’ by Dave Hill, you may want to try this book. The two are great to read one after the other. It’s like talking about an issue with your neighbors — hearing one family’s experience and then anothers. There is some intersection, but generally one book has detail of an area where the other book is more brief.

    LOVED them both.

    Comment by Susan — January 15, 2007 @ 11:13 pm

  24. i wish every one happiness because its so hard to come by ////

    Comment by danny — January 16, 2007 @ 12:35 am

  25. I’ve heard the process of adopting a child can be especially difficult in France. I don’t know how true this is, but I did recently see a documentary on TV5 in which they chronicled the launch of a new French organization designed to assist parents wishing to adopt overseas…

    Does anyone have any information on said organization? (I’m sorry but I don’t remember their name) Or of any organization that assists parents in France that wish to adopt?

    Comment by Mlle Smith — January 16, 2007 @ 6:36 am

  26. I read your blog most days ..and this week I am just wondering what books to take with me on my journey to China to meet the child we are adopting after a lpong three and a half year wait, that your blog deals with adoption…I think this wil be abook for the long plane journey!


    Comment by louise — January 16, 2007 @ 9:22 am

  27. hem… thanks to make me interested in that book

    Comment by septian — January 16, 2007 @ 11:42 am

  28. Hello again. I hope Aminah is still enjoying my novel and thanks to Jonathan for his kind words – I wish him and his partner all the luck in the world. Thanks too to Veerle in Sunny California. Are you looking forward to David Beckham’s forthcoming arrival there? Had you even heard about it? If you have, could you care less? Dear Susan: I’ve a feeling we’ve met before…love the knitting. Louise: Bon Voyage, Happy Landings and Joyful Adopting to you. Goodbye again! DH.

    Comment by Dave Hill — January 16, 2007 @ 12:50 pm

  29. Ok….so i’m almost ready to take the plunge and relocated to France……… In th Uk i’m a lawyer….unfortunatley my area of expertise is not transferable………any brave folk who have taken the plunge before that can give me the courage or a few ideas of how to find gainful employment would be greatly appreciated….

    Comment by Nicole — January 16, 2007 @ 6:50 pm

  30. A friend of mine adopted a little girl from vietnam a few years ago. It was a difficult process; she ran into crooked adoption agents (who stole her money, and more importantly her documents) and a foreign government that changed the rules on her in the middle of the process. But it all worked out in the end, and she is more than happy that she did it.

    Comment by homeimprovementninja — January 16, 2007 @ 9:09 pm

  31. Have a look at the story on Ian McEwan on today’s Times website !

    Comment by Kate — January 17, 2007 @ 8:34 am

  32. Hi Petite
    I haven’t read Adoption but I’m currently reading So Many Ways to Begin, by Jon McGregor, and it’s a jewel. One of the themes is adoption, but it’s not just about that. It’s a multi-layered book as far as themes are concerned, but also when it comes to the structure, which I love. And the writing… a dream! The descriptions are fantastic, every little scene makes you feel like you are part of it. And the poetry of it all… And he’s only 30… A tour de force! I definitely recommend it. It makes me want to read his first book, If Nobody Speaks of Remarkable Things.

    Comment by Lotus Flower — January 19, 2007 @ 11:17 am

  33. I’m not as constant a reader (of blogs) as I’d like. Too little time; works get in the way. That’s my way of getting around to explaining I’ve didn’t realise you were adopted. Me too! Now another reason to be a more disciplined visitor.

    Comment by clarissa — January 21, 2007 @ 9:11 pm

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