Adoption Themes in Young Adult Literature


As an adult I can look back on my childhood and think, “wow, yeah, I was dealing with adoption related trauma,” as evidenced by the hours and hours spent playing two different games with my siblings: Lost Kids (a game where we were some version of shipwrecked and lose our parents and have to fend for ourselves in the wild on an island) and Orphans (usually orphans that had escaped an orphanage and were running from kidnappers). The literature I read, too, was full of adoptee themes…from Anne of Green Gables to The Boxcar Children and Nancy Drew. All were dealing with some sort of adoption or loss-of-mother/father-theme.

But no book was as horrifying and made me question everything I had ever known, as the book The Face on the Milk Carton. The girl in the book knows she’s adopted by her grandparents. They are raising her as their own, but then one day she sees her face staring back on a Missing picture on a school milk carton. Turns out her ‘mom’ had kidnapped her and given to her ‘grandparents’ to raise. The girl in the story was about 3-4 when the kidnapping happened. Of course this memory has been sparked by the Veronica Brown case, as so many media outlets are stating that Dusten Brown (Veronica’s father) had ‘kidnapped’ her (which is media spin, since everyone has known Dusten has had custody of her for the last 19 months). I remember reading this book and thinking, “oh my gosh, what if my parents have been lying to me? What if they really kidnapped me? What if I wasn’t supposed to be adopted?”

Of course that wasn’t true, as I found out later, but the restless feelings inside me were hard to deal with…and not something that I could even give voice to at my tender age. I remember, years later, having a talk about that book with my a-cousin and she said, “oh yeah, that was the scariest book, I was worried that I would get kidnapped!” And the look of shock on her face was priceless, when I said, “well, I was always afraid that I had ALREADY BEEN kidnapped, since I’m adopted.”

What books were you obsessed with as a kid? Any looking back and thinking, “hmm, I must have been dealing with some things?”

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1 Comment

  1. Adoption does feel like a kidnapping at birth where the ‘nappers convince you to say yes first. It also feels like abandonment (not like a loving act) and like you’re being forced to leave so they can steal the baby. The way it feels is the most real version of events.

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