Two mothers. Two countries. One adoption story.
Contemporary art museum curator Julie Cowan’s life is far from perfect. Her pathologist husband, Mark, is distracted by his gorgeous young intern, while her hotshot new boss doubts Julie’s curatorial chops. And Julie’s six-year-old son, Jack (born Juan), may never recover from trauma inflicted by early life spent in a Guatemalan orphanage.
At the same time, Jack’s birth mother, an indigenous Ixil Maya, navigates her own tumultuous path, beginning with surviving a horrific massacre during Guatemala’s civil war.
With an elegantly-woven dual narrative, both mothers of Jessica O’Dwyer’s Mother Mother must draw on fierce inner strength as they reckon with their life choices and grapple with power and race, deception and love, privilege and poverty. It is a heartwrenching and heartwarming story that can only come from someone who has been through the many pains, challenges, and overwhelming joys that come with adopting a child.
A Note From the Publisher
"Jessica O’Dwyer gives us a story we’ve never heard before—one that manages to look with compassion and authenticity and grip-your-chair dramatic tension at the subjects of infertility, marriage, adoption, and most of all, motherhood. She takes us from the world of comfortable middle-class life to the mysterious, sometimes dark and sometimes beautiful and largely unknown territory of Guatemala, and gives a kind of heroine no reader is likely to have met on the page, until now: a mother willing to do anything to save her child. You will not put this book down until you’ve finished, and once you have, you will not forget it."
—Joyce Maynard, author of The Best of Us
“Pain, loss, and love are showcased side-by-side, highlighting how motherly love goes beyond social status, country, and family background.”
—Rossana Pérez, editor of Flight to Freedom: The Story of Central American Refugees
“Jessica gives a very clear and knowledgeable panorama of Guatemala, from its colonial roots to today’s society pervaded with racism, classism, and an inoperative government. At the same time, she describes the sublime, real, and extremely hard truth of adoption. I could relate to each line as a Guatemalan and as an adoptive mom.”
—Cynthia M. Guerra, National Director of Education at the Ombudsman Office in Guatemala 2014-17; Human Rights Activists and educator
“Through vivid imagery, Jessica O’Dwyer’s prose depicts poverty without stripping it of its dignity while at the same contrasting the trappings of white privilege. But at its heart Mother Mother is a story of family, relationships, the bonds of blood and beyond. As O’Dwyer herself writes, ‘Love is an action, not a concept.’”
—Janine Kovac, author of Spinning: Choreography for Coming Home
“I devoured this book. The dual storylines captivated me and the characters stayed with me even when the novel wasn't in my hands. I loved learning more about Guatemala, and that Jessica O’Dwyer didn't shy away from some horrid parts of humanity that many children—and their first parents—must face as part of their own history.”
—Lori Holden, author of The Open-Hearted Way to Open Adoption, honored by the Congressional Coalition of Adoption Institute in 2018 as an Angel in Adoption®
“Wow is such a minuscule word to describe this book, but I can’t think of a better one.”
—Sheryl Smith, Co-Founder of East Bay Guatemalan Adoptive Families
“Mother Mother is realistic and different, gripping and tragic. Novels don’t often take you to Guatemala. This one does, showing in a raw way how hard life is in that largely unknown country.”
—Marjolein Balm, Marjolein Reads book blog
“Mother Mother was such a moving story that I couldn’t put it down. The book draws you in, blurring the lines between reality and fiction.”
—CarlyRae London, Hey It’s CarlyRae! book blog
Available on NetGalley
Average rating from 45 members
This is a wonderfully written book detailing the journey of adoption of a child from Guatemala by American parents. It is harrowing in places and quite graphic - especially when you encounter the 'other' mother's story. The story is well written, the characters are detailed and rich and the ending of the story ties both of the characters' stories together. I look forward to reading more from Jessica O'Dwyer.
A book that looks at adoption through two mother's eyes...the eyes of a birth mother and and adoptive mother, this book is a captivating read for anyone interested in the fabric of adoption. The story weaves back and forth between the adoptive mom and the birth mom so the reader sees how each feels, how each lives, after an adoption. I definitely recommend it for anyone who has adopted or is contemplating adoption.
Mother Mother a novel by Jessica O'Dwyer In this artfully written novel 'Mother Mother', Jessica O'Dwyer explores the emotions, the joys, and the travails of two women, desperately trying to be mothers. One, a white American, becomes a mother through adoption, and the other, an indigenous Ixil Maya woman, by giving birth to a beautiful boy. Their stories-- a mixed race adoption and an impoverished Guatemalan life-- are interwoven in the narrative as each mother tries to discover who she is and how to mother. 'Mother Mother' gives you a real glimpse into the realities of adoption, the power of love, and the joys of becoming a mother. Highly recommeneded. Thank you to NetGalley and the publisher for this advance reading copy.
Well written story. Kept me engaged the entire time. A page turner for sure! Looking forward to reading more books by this author!
Wondering what your next book should be for book club well look no further Mother Mother is it. It covers all the bases for a well-versed group discussion: adoption, family, marriage, motherhood and privilege. Jessica O'Dwyer first novel Mamalita: An Adoption Memoir is based on her adoption of her daughter from Guatemala in the face of overwhelming adversity. I assume she used her knowledge from her experiences as the background here. O’Dwyer shows us the realities of adoption. I found that to be very educational and heartbreaking. At the same time, she does a great job for tourism for Guatemala. The story is told with alternating points of view a woman with white privilege and a woman living in impoverished Guatemalan. This is an excellent read. I highly recommend it! Thank you to NetGalley and the publisher for this advance reading copy
Mother Mother is a wonderful read that outlines the process of adopting a Guatemalan child by an American couple. Told from both the viewpoint of the adoptive mother and the birth mother, it is truly heartwarming and emotional. The lengths the adoptive family must go through along with the struggles of the birth mother. Many other aspects are covered too. Career aspirations and challenges, family and marital relationships, experiences of other adoptive families. There is something in this novel for everyone. Highly recommended! I struggled to put it down as I had to know what came next.
An intriguing novel about international adoption. A fictional story, but some parts could easily be true. A husband and wife go through the adoption process in Guatemala, but because of a ruthless government and rules that make no sense, it takes five years before they are able to bring home their son. The family of three goes through ups and downs and during it all the idea of their son's birth mother weighs heavily. The ending of this adoption story is beautiful and truly gave me chills. The writing is engaging until the very end.
One of my top books of the year! Mother Mother is a touching & painful look at overseas adoption & the struggles tied to becoming a mother. The story unfolds in two points of view. Julie, a successful gallery curator who, after years of infertility, embarks on the adoption process with her husband, Mark. Their road to become parents is littered with heartbreak & deceit. After years of trying, they finally bring Juan, a beautiful young Guatemalan boy home to California. What follows is a challenging beginning as a family that will leave you in tears. There is also Rosalba, Juan’s biological mother, a Ixil Mayan woman who recounts her life story to us in detail. From her violent beginnings to giving her child up to where she stands today. A beautifully written story!
"Mother Mother" is a story primarily told from the point of view of Julie, a happily married woman desperate to be a mother. Failed pregnancies have led her to the complicated world of international adoption, and her tale of finding and adopting her son is intriguing. I loved this book. I have to say, I didn't want it to end. There was so much I didn't know about international adoption and I learned a lot from this book. The writing was concise and engaging. Any criticisms I have really pale in comparison to how much I enjoyed this novel, but since nothing is perfect, here are my (again, admittedly minor) cons: 1. The husband was really blah. I think, taking the book as a whole and what happened toward the end, that this was intentional. But I was frustrated with his character because it felt like he was just a supporting role, he didn't have much personality except to circle Julie like a satellite and he didn't seem to have much to say about any of the choices she was making for their family. 2. There were a few mentions of how the area they were living in was very lily-white, no diversity, etc. I have a really hard time believing that suburban San Francisco is really that homogenous. 3. In addition to Julie's story, there was an alternating narration going on from Guatemala. I didn't think it really added much to the overall plot line. It skipped around too much in time for my taste, and the framework of the "testimonial" could have been better explained at the outset. Many thanks to NetGalley for a free copy of this book in exchange for my unbiased review.
This novel dealt with themes of adoption, miscarriage and relationships in a fantastic and realistic manner. You feel the levels of pain and frustration from the key characters throughout, and this ensures that you are fully taken into the story, and feel real emotion for the times they are going through. It was an unexpected gem and I will be passing this on to all of my friends on release!
I adored this book. This author opened my eyes to conflict and history within Guatemala that I never knew existed. The author did an amazing job at capturing the raw emotion if the characters and took me on a journey that was entirely bittersweet. I’d recommend this book to anyone who likes a touch of real life from the books they read, and that will pull back the curtain on a topic one may not be as familiar with. One of my favorite reads so far this year!
Jessica O'Dwyer's follow-up book to her memoir Mamalita, Mother Mother does not disappoint. Although it is fiction, much of what she writes about in regards to international adoption in Guatemala and the Guatemalan civil war is very much real. Told in two narratives, an American woman who desires to become a mother through international adoption and a birth mother, who makes the difficult decision to place her son adoption. Mrs. O'Dwyer covers complex topics such as infertility, adoption, institutionalized care, adoptee trauma, rehoming, family, motherhood, rape, adoption coercion and fraud, white privilege, and balancing motherhood and career ambitions just to name a few. The ending of the book is incredible and leaves you crying at the end. A must-read for any adoptive parent!
Mother Mother is a riveting story of the lives of a middle class adoptive mother in the US and a poor indigenous Guatemalan birth mother. I kept turning the pages long after bedtime because I cared about these two women; I wanted to know what would happen next, their sources of joy and insecurity as well as the more mundane details of their daily lives. And Jessica O’Dwyer delivered that to me page after page. It is an ambitious and textured story that isn’t afraid to look at the imperfections in people and society; it does so with fairness and empathy. The description of the armed conflict and its impact on Rosalba, her family, her village, and the next generation gave me new perspectives on Guatemalan society that are still rippling in my mind weeks after reading the book. An excellent read just for me, but even better as a prompt for group discussion.
This is a book about motherhood and loving your child fiercely. Julie's story of emerging parenthood was engaging and endearing from start to finish. Jessica O'Dwyer carefully wove together the tale of two mothers, one mother who adopted a child from Guatemala, and a parallel story of a mother in Guatemala. Both mothers told stories about their journey to motherhood and their hopes and challenges along the way. Without giving anything away, I will say that you won't want to put this book down. You'll want to know how Julie and Jack fare on their road to becoming a family, and how Rosalba's family fares on their journey.
It is a fascinating story of adoption, it is the first book I've read that brings the birth mother and adoptive's mother story together. The writing was enjoyable and made for a pleasant read, some phrases I 'liked' "She was empty. Rowan was gone" - This took me from 0-100 as I have a little understanding of how she feels and it moved me to tears. Another favorite line "The smell of corn alcohol and old clothes came in like a second person" Also, "Boys like that grew up to run the world, or atleast run the country and every business in it" thanks for recognizing white man privilege However, there are a few things that have affected the rating I gave it. One, the cover - it doesn't do the book justice, if I saw it in a store, I would not pick it up. Two, the stereotypes - I understand that the author is writing from her point of view - a white woman, One'd hope it won't but it really shows. For example, I absolutely disliked the fact that a pre-teen/young teen is described in such a sexualized manner having 'curves' and the size of her breasts, could have closed the book there and then. I took more notice of it because we know that black children are usually sexualized early on and adult characteristics assigned to them. Also the descriptions were so stereotypical, powerful legs and strong shoulders? really? are black girls & women not allowed to be dainty at all? In a book that can describe people as peach I wasn't expecting that skin would be described as black, whose skin is actually black? Although my connection with the main character was limited, what happened to her was totally unnecessary and I hope the culprit gets his just desserts. I hope for a happy ending for her, birth mother and their son. Recommended!
Mother Mother by Jessica O’Dwyer begins with the emotional, bureaucratic, and logistical obstacle course that Julie Cowan, a museum curator, and her husband, Mark, a pathologist, navigate while adopting their toddler son from Guatemala. This page turner novel does a masterful job of portraying the joy of becoming parents and the difficult adjustments on marriage and careers. I liked Julie and felt as if I was thrown off balance right along with her as unexpected events unfolded. Although Julie and Mark are as prepared as any adoptive parents could be, they are tested by both the love and anger Juan throws at them, the reaction of friends, families and strangers to being white parents with a brown son, trying to keep up with their careers, and the effort needed to keep their marriage intact. A second narrative, that of Juan’s birth mother in Guatemala, is well integrated into the novel and contributes to the suspense and rich complexity of this story. I highly recommend this intriguing book.
Holy smokes. I’ve never felt so moved by a book. This story was captivating from the start, even though I admittedly had no idea where it was taking me. There were quite a few random plot twists that led nowhere, but they had a bigger purpose. You have to put your read-between-the-lines hat to cut through the subtlety, because she wastes no time explaining the small stuff. What we think of as literary forks become part of the entire adoption struggle. You don’t know where things are headed before they happen, but right when it felt like a DNF I knew to push through. I’m so glad I did. I wish we saw more character development for some of the characters, but it’s about the mother’s journey foremost. This one will stay with me for a while.
Mother Mother is the story of Julie, who, with her husband Mark, adopts a child from Guatemala. This isn’t a topic I’ve read much about so I found the story very interesting, especially after reading that the author herself has two sons from Guatemala. The process and experience that Julie and Mark went through seemed very realistic. I liked a lot about this book. I liked Julie and found her incredibly well-realised and sympathetic. I also enjoyed that the story wasn’t just about her being a mother, but her life too. I found a lot of the other characters quite one-dimensional, especially Mark, Clare and Julie’s boss. I personally didn’t find the parts in Guatemala as engaging, and towards the end found the book a bit over sentimental, but I am pretty resistant to anything overly sentimental so I think a lot of other people would enjoy this. This is an interesting read on a topic I hadn’t explored before and I think a lot of people would enjoy it. It’s both an easy read and well-written and would appeal to a lot of people as it makes the topic very realistic and accessible.
I received an ARC of this novel from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review. Julie, an American, adopts a child from Guatemala. Her resilience during the delays and love for a child she barely knows is inspiring and heartbreaking. The ending is both wonderful and terrible. I admire Julie's selflessness, but I hate that Juan will learn truths that may be emotionally damaging.
What a lovely read. The trials and tribulations of a mixed race adoption from war torn Guatamala. Julie's family prioritising over her work, eventually, through tough times and a marriage breakdown wins in the end❤️ Jessica is a brilliant author and put me through a gambit of emotions, I was in bits at the end.
A heartbreaking but touching story about adoption. It tells the story of two mothers whose love for their son is so great they are forced to go to many lengths to protect him. The experience that Julie and Mark go through to adopt their son was so moving, I desperately wanted things to go their way. It also showed the reality of adopting a child who is struggling to adapt to his new surroundings and recognise his own emotions. My heart was heavy hearing the story of Rosalba and the story of her life growing up and I was saddened by the events that lead to her giving up Juan. It's an unimaginable and very scary situation for a young woman to be in. Although this book is fiction I believe that many parts of it are realistic for families who have been on both sides of the adoption process and for this reason the story stayed with me. My only disappointment in this story is that we didn't get to follow the families for longer.
A heart wrenching novel about the two side of an adoption. The story goes back and forth between the Guatemalan mother of a young boy, and the North American family that adopts him. This story is well written and keeps one reading. Having grown up in Guatemala, and still having ties there made me appreciate the research she did on Guatemala, and of the armed conflict which ripped through the country for many years. This story takes us on a long journey for the adoptive family as they try to get their child out after five years of paperwork which was already in the works, and on top of that a looming shutdown of adoptions in the country. This story keeps you wanting to find out what happens, to both sides of the adoption process. I would like to thank NetGalley and Apprentice House Press for a copy of this book.
Mother Mother Jessica O’Dwyer The mothers at the core of Jessica O’Dwyer’s novel love their children. As in all families, mistakes are made, good intentions go bad, tantrums are thrown. But these mothers are strong and fierce and determined to do their best for their child. The story follows Julie and Mark, a San Francisco couple who adopt an infant from Guatemala and, in a parallel story, Rosalba, as she grows to womanhood in a rural Guatemalan village. Their stories take you into the stylish but back-biting contemporary art world of San Francisco and into the corrupt and violent but naturally beautiful countryside of Guatemala. When Julie and Mark decide to adopt a baby from Guatemala, their decision is based in practicality. It is relatively affordable, compared to some options; children there are in need; an agent takes care of all the paperwork. Unfortunately, theirs is one of the cases that become ensnarled in government red tape and corruption. The baby they fell in love with, supported financially and visited as often as they could, is five years old when he officially becomes their son and can move with them to their home in San Francisco. This five-year process takes a toll - Julie’s job suffers, her relationship with her sister grows awkward and her marriage shows some cracks. But it also makes Julie even more resolute to get this child and make a home. Once safe in the U.S., the adjustment and issues are huge. Among those issues is the reality of an ethnically mixed family, which changes their lives forever and in ways not anticipated. Julie finds support in online sites, meeting other adoptive families, utilizing resources for families with Guatemalan children and working to grow with her son. In a tiny rural village in Guatemala, the newborn Rosalba is discovered, the only survivor of a brutal retaliatory massacre. She is not so much adopted as absorbed into a family from a nearby village. She is unaware that her parents are not her birth parents and accepts her place in the household - maybe working a little harder than her brothers and sisters, maybe required to take on the most back breaking work, but it is not an unhappy place for her. She grows into a good and kind person and even though her education is meager, she excels in whatever she gets. When the opportunity to work as a maid for a rich family in the nearest city arises, Rosalba is selected for the job. If anything, here she works even harder, but she is able to send money to help her family and she grows to like the job and the comfortable environment with this new family. But Rosalba is naive and a bit of flattery and one mistake changes her life. There are fathers in this story, but there is no doubt that this story is about mothers, in all their blundering glory. Mother Mother is a gripping journey and delivers an emotional punch you will not soon forget.
Mother, Mother is a heart wrenching and captivating novel about an American woman’s tribulations of international adoption and a birth mothers difficult decision to place her child for adoption. This was such a unique, beautiful, and thoughtfully written story. Additionally, as a person who has considered the idea of adoption, this book was tremendously eye-opening. Mother, Mother is certainly one of my top books of the year and I would highly recommend reading it. I am thankful to Netgalley and the publisher for this ARC, and I look forward to reading more of Jessica O’Dwyer’s work.
“Mother Mother” is a riveting novel about two worlds thousands of miles apart and how they are intricately intertwined. Julie and her husband Mark are an affluent couple who seemingly have everything they want—except a child. They embark on adopting a baby from Guatemala, spending several long years embroiled in that country’s nightmarishly bureaucratic and corrupt system before they can finally take their traumatized son home. That’s when things become even more complicated. Meanwhile, we learn about the harrowing history of Guatemala through the testimony of their son’s birth mother, who as an infant survived a massacre and grew up in a tiny village encumbered by poverty and ongoing violence. The novel tackles difficult dilemmas about adoption and privilege head on, yet with grace and sensitivity. O’Dwyer’s exquisitely visual depictions of both worlds made me feel like I was right there—in the physical environment, and inside the hearts and minds of the two mothers. “Mother Mother” is a triumph.
Mother Mother is a powerful story about motherhood and Guatamalan adoption. Julie and Mark have struggled with conception and finally decide to adopt a baby from Guatamala. But this road is not any easier. It takes YEARS before they get to bring Jack (born Juan) home. And even then, the path is still difficult, riddled with prejudice and health troubles. This novel is told from the perspective of the birth mother and the adoptive mother. The beginning was a little slow, choppy, and disjointed. But once you connect with the characters and the story develops, we really get moving. This novel is heart wrenching and heart warming. I would definitely recommend it, especially to anyone connected to adoption or interested in Guatemala. *This novel is full of triggers regarding miscarriage, genocide, Guatamalan warfare, adoption trauma, and much more. Please read more reviews if this could be an issue for you. ** Thank you @netgalley @apprenticehousepress for my advanced copy for review!
This was a spellbinding story. I loved and hated the characters at different intervals, each one pulled at me. Written with so many complex emotions, this is not an easy read, and it's not one of those fluffy "feel good" reads either. What it is, is intense, beautiful and triumphant in many ways. I felt for Julie, the woman who wants it all- the career, the man and the child... but especially the child. The thought of adoption is scary on it's own- and still a bit taboo today. Bring another country's politics and customs into the make? It feels impossible. Then there's raising a child up that wasn't with their adoptive family from birth, trying to understand the scars of a past that you couldn't help. Family has always been important to me, and I feel like I would have many of Julie's feelings. Do you search for the birth mother? Is it better for the child? And if you find them, are you still "Mom"? How does one decide what the right thing to do here is? On the plus side, the book had a good flow. It was beautifully written and intensely interesting. On the other hand, it's not a subject I would ever feel completely comfortable with.... and I may have wanted to slap all the adult characters at least once throughout the story. Honestly, I finished this book weeks ago and have been trying to come to terms with how I feel about it. For me, this is a four star book- It's gorgeous and I highly recommend it.... but it can hardly be considered a light or fast read. On the adult content scale, there's violence (high levels of physical as well as sexual), language, and abuse. It's definitely not geared toward children. I would give it a seven. I was lucky enough to receive an eARC of this book from Netgalley and Apprentice House Press in exchange for an honest review. My thanks!
After years of trying to have a biological baby of their own, the Cowans turn their focus to adoption, an entirely new series of heartbreak. They finally get matched with a baby in Guatemala, Juan, and they couldn’t be happier. What follows is the emotional rollercoaster of adoption and motherhood. Told in alternating perspectives of Juan’s (now Jack’s) adoptive mother and biological mother. How Julie evolves as Jack’s adoptive mother and navigates how to best support his individual needs, and how his birth mother came to the most impossible decision. As a mother myself, I wasn’t prepared for how this book would shred me into a million pieces. Becoming a mother changes everything, your body, your family relationships, your marriage, your career, your personhood. The story really illustrated the complexities of adoption, specifically mixed race adoption, and becoming a mother while incorporating and white privilege and racial disparity. I really loved the way the author incorporated pieces of Guatemalan culture as well. It was an incredibly emotional and powerful read. Thank you Apprentice House Press and NetGalley for the gifted e-copy
You know how sometimes you request a book because you think you’ll quite enjoy it, but it’s not top of your list? Then you read it and you wonder why on earth it wasn’t? Yeah, that! This is a story I hadn’t read before - a look at what it’s like to want a child so badly when you’re unable to see a pregnancy to term. This is a story of how adopting a child affects your marriage, family and lifestyle. A story of the reasons that might lead you to give up a child for adoption, and the misery it can bring. A story of a young boy, raised in a Guatemalan orphanage and suddenly thrown into life in America with a white family and trying to find his way. This was such an eye-opener for me - not only have I had the privilege of never needing to understand the adoption system, but I also had no idea of the history of violence in Guatemala. It’s complicated, it’s brutal and it’s heartbreaking, much like this story. This took me on an emotional rollercoaster and I’m still stunned and in awe of the way O’Dwyer tells this beautiful story of race, motherhood, love and loss.
With everything going on in our world these days, chances are you’ve not thought much about the many difficult issues surrounding adoption. But that’s the territory writer Jessica O’Dwyer has staked out for herself. It is part of her makeup as she is the mother two children adopted from Guatemala and, as such, has a lot of personal experience exploring these issues. Her first book was the page-turning memoir Mamalita about her journey to adopt her two children. With Mother Mother, she’s turned her real-life experience into a novel. This is the story of Julie Cowan, an upper middle class married woman from the San Francisco area who works in a small, prestigious art museum. She is invested in her career but desperately wants to be a mother and, after too many failed attempts with husband Mark, they decide to adopt. And so begins the adoption merry-go-round, and O’Dwyer is an expert at cataloguing its heartbreaking twists and turns. Guatemala was a hotbed of adoptions for many years until the government there, realizing that perhaps many of the babies were being stolen, shut it down. Julie and Mark are trying to adopt a child during the period where the last of such adoptions are permitted and find themselves racing the calendar. The couple is not alone and, along the way, they meet and bond with many American parents who are going through the circuitous process with many of the same emotions. No two cases, it seems, are ever exactly alike. The Cowans’ first attempt fails, and it would make many couples turn elsewhere, but Julie and Mark carry on. Their second adoption attempt turns up a little boy named Juan whom they fall in love with. They are able to visit him in person at a central Guatemalan hotel where all the adoptive parents stay. They buy him gifts, play with him, and do the best they can while cooped up in the hotel. The process takes years and just when it seems the legal machinations are about to go their way, Juan is transferred from a foster family to a large orphanage. It seems he might slip from their fingers but somehow, Julie and Marc are able to adopt him legally. All the while, Julie wonders about the mother who gave Juan up. Why did she do it? Is it possible that Juan was taken from her? This is where O’Dwyer uses a storytelling device that elevates Mother Mother. The author doesn’t merely have Julie and the reader imagine what happened. She switches gears to tell the story of how Juan came to fall into the adoption process, and it is a harrowing tale. Suffice it to say that Guatemala was, during much of its recent history, a very violent country. Its citizens are still poor and ripe for abuse. While the book regularly delves into Juan’s ancestry, it is principally concerned with Julie’s life and how she and Marc adapt to the new child in their home. Julie Cowan recalls one of the posts another adoptive mother had written: “Our kids come with a long, slow on-ramp. Nothing happens quickly. You’ll lose friends and be alienated. . . .” Julie finds herself feeling more and more alienated from her sister who gets pregnant very easily and seems oblivious to the tone-deaf advice she dispenses to Julie. But the toughest adjustment Julie must make is to the small boy himself. Life is so different from Guatemala in the middle-class Cowan house that it might as well be Mars. Juan cannot conceive that Julie’s husband Mark is not just a visitor. The boy asks when the visitor will be leaving and Julie at first doesn’t understand who he means. When it dawns on her, she explains. “Mark lives here too. He’s your dad.” She paused to let the information sink in, then point to herself. “I’m your mom. Mommy.” But episodes like those seem mild compared to what’s to come. Upon going to a mostly all-white school, Juan decides he wants to be called Jack and begins acting out, physically threatening Julie’s safety. He drags his fingernails across her face and attacks her with a hammer. Someone suggests Julie should send him back. As Julie adjusts, she meets another mother who does just that. This other parent has adopted two girls from Haiti after giving birth to two sons. When one of those sons becomes sexually interested in one of the adopted girls, the mother sends the girls to another adoptive family. It’s a heart-wrenching decision, but Julie clearly sees echoes of her own situation in that family. She decides the answer is to embrace more Guatemalan culture but, at this point, Mark is clearly no long a supporter. Mark, who up to this point has been a willing participant in Juan/Jack’s adoption, sets off on his own journey, meeting a younger woman who becomes pregnant with Mark’s child. Author O’Dwyer shows time and again that adoption is not for the faint-hearted. Her sister may not understand and husband Mark might quit but for Julie, adoption and Juan/Jack’s well-being is all-consuming and soon, she’s off on a return trip to Guatemala where, in a twist that is conceivable though somewhat unlikely, Julie comes face to face with Juan/Jack’s biological mother Rosalba. By then, the reader is only too familiar with how and why the poor mother gave up her son. Rosalba’s story provides insight into what the adoption process is like for the biological mothers of Guatemala who are almost too young and uneducated to know what is happening to them. The reader can see what the mothers experience from each other’s perspectives. O’Dwyer does a compelling job of juxtaposing the adoption experience in a way that is rarely done. And will Julie have the nerve to reveal to Rosalba that her lost son is the boy Julie now calls Jack? The book seems to beg the reader for an answer to the question: What would you do?
This is a truly heart wrenching novel about international adoption told from both sides - that of the ones adopting and those putting their child up for adoption. O'Dwyer's writing is beautiful and she gives both perspectives such depth and emotion. This isn't an easy read but it's a riveting one and the ending is unforgettable.
It's obvious that this work of fiction is written with personal experience and inside knowledge on the experience adoption from Guatemala. The author describes the difficulties associated with finalizing an international adoption, bringing a child into a foreign place, and adjusting as a family to the numerous challenges this brings. She describes the impacts that adoption has on every facet of life, including marriage and extended family. We also hear the story of the birth mother - the tumultuous circumstances that led to her being a mother, one in which no one would blame her for placing her child into adoption. Overall, adoption is a difficult situation for all who are involved. The adoptive child is separated from his/her birth parent yet expected to adjust and be grateful for a new life. The adoptive parents are helping a child find a stable and loving home, yet can never compete with the biological parent and may always feel inadequate. This story is well-written, fast-paced, and brings to light many issues that people who have not gone through the adoption process would not be aware of. The book also provides a lot of detail about the armed conflicts and turbulent past of Guatemala. Thanks to Netgalley for this ARC.
Mother Mother is an emotional, gripping tale of two mothers, thousands of miles apart and how their paths get intertwined in the process of seeking motherhood.Julie and Mark make their minds to adopt a child from Guatemala country through an international adoption program, after years of trying to conceive one. In the process they spend several years for approval of paperwork, along with many other American parents, entangled in the country's rigid and corrupt constitutional laws, only to find the programs shut down mid-way. Meanwhile, their son Juan gets shifted from foster care to an orphanage with harrowing ministrations that traumatizes him at such a delicate age. Only when Julie loses all hope she surprisingly receives the approbation of the paperwork regarding their son's adoption. But this only marks the beginning of the struggle Julie encounters in the path to becoming a mother. As Julie tries to give a home to Juan, he struggles to adjust in a white society, in a perfect family and constantly fears loss due to the trauma inflicted upon him during his orphanage days. And in turn giving a challenge to Julie to constantly evolve as a mother and adapt to Juan's world. She tries every possible way to love and care for Juan and above all to let Juan know that he is loved. On the other hand we are narrated the tumultuous journey of Juan's birth mother in the Guatemalan country along with a detailed description of the country's civil war and its harrowing repercussions. Her story highlights the beauty and pain in the struggle of a mother giving away her child for a better upbringing thus erasing prejudices related to the character of the mother. The author has gracefully described the struggle of both the mothers. While being dragged between the envy towards Juan's birth mother and constant nagging of her boss to curate innovative ideas for her contemporary art museum, Julie discovers motherhood through an emotional and painful struggle. Rosalba after giving away her son never stops thinking, loving and praying for his well being.But will Julie get past her insecurities to get Juan educated about his homeland and his birth mother? Overall, this story touched so many aspects of adoption which include the struggle in the process itself, mental health of the children being adopted, racism, rehoming, orphanages, marriage and motherhood. These aspects made it feel real and heartwarming. The dual narration reasonably justified the turns that the plot took. And the ending was heavenly emotional.I devoured every single detail, emotion and was overwhelmed with this uniquely magnificent story. Thank you Netgalley and Apprentice House Press for this ARC and Thank you to Jessica O'Dwyer for this wonderfully crafted piece.
When Julie and Mark embark on adopting a baby from Guatemala, they have no idea of the challenges they will face. After an initial adoption falls through, they are matched with an infant boy. Bureaucracy, red tape, and the closing down of adoptions from Guatemala, however, means that years pass before Juan Rolando is officially adopted and comes to live with them in San Francisco. For four years, they fly back and forth, visiting him in the confines of a hotel for a few days at a time, attempting to bond with a child they hardly know. After their adoption is finally completed and Juan Rolando is officially their son and an American citizen, Mark and Julie hire a searcher to find Juan’s (who has renamed himself Jack) birth mother, hoping to fill in the gaps of his health and medical chart. The search instead reveals that Jack’s biological mother is not the woman they were told and that his documents were forged. This is a secret that Mark and Julie keep to themselves, unsure whether or not Jack was an infant given up voluntarily or purchased from his mother by manipulation. The story focuses primarily on Julie who has a successful job at a small art gallery although she is turned down for a promotion early on in the book. O’Dwyer does well at portraying the tension between Julie’s career and her goals in the art world versus her role as a mother. Mark is a doctor, a research scientist, whose job adapts very little to his new role as a father whereas Julie is the driving force behind their adoption, reworking her days and her career around her role as Jack’s mother. It isn’t hard to see the fractures in their marriage growing. The book covers quite a bit of time, around a decade, and moves forward quite quickly through the characters’ lives. Toward the end, after a major reveal, we jump forward a whole year and are told only through exposition what the fallout of that reveal has been. While this provides a wide-ranging view of this family and the many facets of adoption, it also made me feel distant from the characters and made it more difficult to sympathize with them. I never felt like I really understood Julie or her motivations and so I never particularly cared what happened to any of them. O’Dwyer’s bio tells us that she is the mother of two children, adopted from Guatemala. So I have to assume she knows what she’s writing about. The world of international adoption is well outside my realm of expertise and I have no trouble believing that it is a long and painful and expensive road to travel to parenthood. I think international and cross-cultural adoption is a complicated and complex topic. Some of that is touched on in Mother Mother but it was never clear to me what Julie’s own feelings were and whether or not I was supposed to view her as the villain or the hero of the story. Julie loves her son wholeheartedly. When she befriends another adoptive mother, she is horrified when that mother eventually rehomes her two daughters. At the same time, Julie learns that there is a very real chance her son was either kidnapped or taken from his family under false premises and she and her husband choose to keep this a secret, never investigating further. As well, they make very little effort to keep their son connected to his Guatemalan heritage. While still undergoing the process of adoption and visiting him in Guatemala, they learn Spanish but make no effort to keep it up when he arrives in the US or to encourage him to maintain his first language. They never take him to visit Guatemala or attempt to connect him with Guatemalan-Americans. There is one scene where they take him to a Guatemala restaurant. Later, they attend a camp for families with children adopted from Latin-American countries, which is nice but run entirely by white folks so not at all the same as helping him maintain his connection to his heritage. When Juan, surrounded by white children at school, wants to change his name to Jack, they never even discuss it with him or encourage him to retain his birth name. Intersecting with all this however is the story of a young woman named Rosalba. Through her we learn more about the long and vicious civil war in Guatemala. We are given a glimpse of the poverty and struggle of a Guatemala woman and how she might end up in the position of giving away a child. While I would have liked to spend more time with Rosalba, I appreciated the nuance this gave the story and the glimpse it provided of Guatemala itself. As I said, adoption is complicated and international adoption probably even more so. I don’t feel like I’m in a position to comment on the rights or wrongs of it and, as a parent, I can’t imagine the pain and struggle faced by mothers both biological and adoptive. Overall, I would have liked Mother Mother to take me deeper into the emotional territory of it all when, instead, I felt like I was skimming over the surface. This is a book that feels like one I should have cried over but instead found myself not feeling particularly emotional at all. O’Dwyer has also written a non-fiction memoir about her own experience of adoption and I’m interested now to see what her perspective there might be.
Staggering in its accuracy and honesty. Highly recommend to anyone touched by adoption. As adoptive mother of Guatemalan children, this beautifully captures the ongoing angst about how best to help our children find their way in life as part of a culture they were not born into.
This was a very thoughtfully and well written book focusing on adoption from Guatemala to USA and the impacts this has on all relationships and people involved. I found the elements written from the Guatemalan perspective detailing the frictions within the country difficult to read and wasn't expecting such challenging and upsetting material although it is obviously important to understand to give the story balance. I enjoyed reading this and felt very connected to the main characters of Jack and his US mother.
A thank you to NetGalley for sharing the ARC in exchange for an honest review. With several international adoptions enriching my amazing family, I'm naturally drawn to books on the subject. Prior to this all of my reads thus far have fallen into the Nonfiction category - at least as I what I can recall. And, while I'm also always a bit uncomfortable with stories that juxtapose the 'haves' and the 'have-nots' when written from the perspective by an author that falls into the former category. However, I did love that fact that it was written by a woman that authored the book based on her experience. As such, it's though-provoking and does beg the question - how much is fact and how much is fiction. Literarily speaking, it's evident that the author is a first time novelist, but that's not a criticism, or does it detract from the touching and heartfelt read.