This list of books about adoption includes 13 books for kids and adults. For a more extensive list of middle-grade books about adoption and foster care, see this NEW list featuring 51 books!
I have always been interested in adoption. Not the process alone, but the “ever after.” How do adoptees handle being adopted? How can adoptive parents safely straddle being good parents while (in some cases) maintaining a connection to birth parents?
As with many other issues, I’ve found a few answers in books. So, I’ve made a list of 13 books centered around the theme of adoption. The list includes memoirs, middle-grade novels, YA, and of course, literary fiction. Bonus book in this category is Celeste Ng’s Little Fires Everywhere. Goodreads blurbs are in Italics.
All You Can Ever Know
Nicole Chung was born severely premature, placed for adoption by her Korean parents, and raised by a white family in a sheltered Oregon town. From early childhood, she heard the story of her adoption as a comforting, prepackaged myth. She believed that her biological parents had made the ultimate sacrifice in the hopes of giving her a better life; that forever feeling slightly out of place was simply her fate as a transracial adoptee. But as she grew up—facing prejudice her adoptive family couldn’t see, finding her identity as an Asian American and a writer, becoming ever more curious about where she came from—she wondered if the story she’d been told was the whole truth.
This book packs a serious emotional punch and clearly mirrors Chung’s emotions throughout her life, from her feeling out of place even within her adopted family to reconciling her love and gratitude to her adoptive parents with her yearning to find her birth parents. Then, tackling the emotions that come with a restored connection to her Korean family and what that means for her own children. A few times, Chung’s story brought tears to my eyes.
Half a World Away
Eleven-year-old Jaden is adopted, and he knows he’s an “epic fail.’ That’s why his family is traveling to Kazakhstan to adopt a new baby—to replace him, he’s sure. And he gets it. He is incapable of stopping his stealing, hoarding, lighting fires, aggressive running, and obsession with electricity. He knows his parents love him, but he feels…nothing.
But when they get to Kazakhstan, it turns out the infant they’ve traveled for has already been adopted, and literally within minutes are faced with having to choose from six other babies. While his parents agonize, Jaden is more interested in the toddlers. One, a little guy named Dimash, spies Jaden and barrels over to him every time he sees him. Jaden finds himself increasingly intrigued by and worried about Dimash. Already three years old and barely able to speak, Dimash will soon age out of the orphanage, and then his life will be as hopeless as Jaden feels now. For the first time in his life, Jaden actually feels something that isn’t pure blinding fury, and there’s no way to control it, or its power.
Forever Or a Long, Long Time
Flora and her brother, Julian, don’t believe they were born. They’ve lived in so many foster homes, they can’t remember where they came from. And even now that they’ve been adopted, Flora still struggles to believe in forever. So along with their new mother, Flora and Julian begin a journey to go back and discover their past—for only then can they really begin to build their future.
Counting by 7s
Willow Chance is a twelve-year-old genius, obsessed with nature and diagnosing medical conditions, who finds it comforting to count by 7s. It has never been easy for her to connect with anyone other than her adoptive parents, but that hasn’t kept her from leading a quietly happy life…until now.
Suddenly Willow’s world is tragically changed when her parents both die in a car crash, leaving her alone in a baffling world. The triumph of this book is that it is not a tragedy. This extraordinarily odd, but extraordinarily endearing, girl manages to push through her grief. Her journey to find a fascinatingly diverse and fully believable surrogate family is a joy and a revelation to read.
I LOVED THIS BOOK. READ IT.
Far From the Tree
A contemporary novel about three adopted siblings who find each other at just the right moment.
Joaquin, Grace and Maya are three teenagers with the same birth mother who are adopted (Grace and Maya) and fostered (Joaquin) by different parents. When Grace, gives up her own daughter for adoption, she becomes curious about her birth mother and finds out she also has siblings!
My favorite thing about this book is the way all of the adoptive parents handle the birth parents of their children. Benway shows that adoption is warm and wonderful and not always as messy as it can seem. Still, she doesn’t hide the sometimes deplorable condition of the foster care system and all the trauma it can cause.
One morning, Deming Guo’s mother, an undocumented Chinese immigrant named Polly, goes to her job at the nail salon and never comes home. No one can find any trace of her.
With his mother gone, eleven-year-old Deming is left with no one to care for him. He is eventually adopted by two white college professors who move him from the Bronx to a small town upstate. They rename him Daniel Wilkinson in their efforts to make him over into their version of an “all-American boy.” But far away from all he’s ever known, Daniel struggles to reconcile his new life with his mother’s disappearance and the memories of the family and community he left behind.
I LOVED the writing in this book. Ko wields words like no other. Her sentences are absolutely breathtaking. Yet, Deming Guo is an unbelievably frustrating character for the first fifty percent, so please be patient with him. I found myself being alternately infuriated at and sorry for his adoptive parents, his mother and Deming himself.
This novel breaks you apart and puts you back together. An excellent coming of age story which deftly examines identity, immigration and transracial adoption.
Before We Were Yours
Memphis, 1939. Twelve-year-old Rill Foss and her four younger siblings live a magical life aboard their family’s Mississippi River shantyboat. But when their father must rush their mother to the hospital one stormy night, Rill is left in charge—until strangers arrive in force. Wrenched from all that is familiar and thrown into a Tennessee Children’s Home Society orphanage, the Foss children are assured that they will soon be returned to their parents—but they quickly realize the dark truth. At the mercy of the facility’s cruel director, Rill fights to keep her sisters and brother together in a world of danger and uncertainty.
Aiken, South Carolina, present day. Born into wealth and privilege, Avery Stafford seems to have it all: a successful career as a federal prosecutor, a handsome fiancé, and a lavish wedding on the horizon. But when Avery returns home to help her father weather a health crisis, a chance encounter leaves her with uncomfortable questions and compels her to take a journey through her family’s long-hidden history, on a path that will ultimately lead either to devastation or to redemption.
The Tea Girl of Hummingbird Lane
In their remote mountain village, Li-yan and her family align their lives around the seasons and the farming of tea. For the Akha people, ensconced in ritual and routine, life goes on as it has for generations—until a stranger appears at the village gate in a jeep, the first automobile any of the villagers has ever seen.
The stranger’s arrival marks the first entrance of the modern world in the lives of the Akha people. Slowly, Li-yan, one of the few educated girls on her mountain, begins to reject the customs that shaped her early life. When she has a baby out of wedlock—conceived with a man her parents consider a poor choice—she rejects the tradition that would compel her to give the child over to be killed, and instead leaves her, wrapped in a blanket with a tea cake tucked in its folds, near an orphanage in a nearby city.
As Li-yan comes into herself, leaving her insular village for an education, a business, and city life, her daughter, Haley, is raised in California by loving adoptive parents. Despite her privileged childhood, Haley wonders about her origins. Across the ocean Li-yan longs for her lost daughter. Over the course of years, each searches for meaning in the study of Pu’er, the tea that has shaped their family’s destiny for centuries.
Blade never asked for a life of the rich and famous. In fact, he’d give anything not to be the son of Rutherford Morrison, a washed-up rock star and drug addict with delusions of a comeback. Or to no longer be part of a family known most for lost potential, failure, and tragedy. The one true light is his girlfriend, Chapel, but her parents have forbidden their relationship, assuming—like many—that Blade will become just like his father.
In reality, the only thing Blade has in common with Rutherford is the music that lives inside them. But not even the songs that flow through Blade’s soul are enough when he’s faced with two unimaginable realities: the threat of losing Chapel forever, and the revelation of a long-held family secret, one that leaves him questioning everything he thought was true. All that remains is a letter and a ticket to Ghana—both of which could bring Blade the freedom and love he’s been searching for, or leave him feeling even more adrift.
I liked this one and because I didn’t read the blurb, I was shocked to see that parts of it were actually set in Ghana! If you get the chance to do audio, take it — there’s REAL MUSIC.
That Kind of Mother
Rebecca Stone, a white woman in the 80’s bonds with her black nursing coach, Priscilla. The women strike an odd friendship that continues for a few years until Priscilla becomes pregnant and dies in childbirth. Rebecca decides to adopt Priscilla’s son. The story is a slow exploration of the lives of Rebecca, her sons, family and Priscilla’s family for the next decade.
This is a very quiet novel. Alam’s writing is incisive and often meandering. While I enjoyed the way his writing creates snapshots of the family through the years, there were times I just wanted him to hurry up and tell the story. Many times, it felt like there was no real story. The reader is just led along the lives of these characters.
As expected, the novel dissects race relations, motherhood and what friendship really means. At the end of the novel, there is a sense that one never fully knows the people they love.
I enjoyed this to a large extent and definitely recommend slowly reading it, patiently. It may not be everyone’s cup of tea, but if you like slow novels exploring the inner lives of women, this is perfect.
Emily Out of Focus
Twelve-year-old Emily is flying with her parents to China to adopt and bring home a new baby sister. She’s excited but nervous to travel across the world and very aware that this trip will change her entire life. And the cracks are already starting to show the moment they reach the hotel–her parents are all about the new baby, and have no interest in exploring.
In the adoption trip group, Emily meets Katherine, a Chinese-American girl whose family has returned to China to adopt a second child. The girls eventually become friends and Katherine reveals a secret: she’s determined to find her birth mother, and she wants Emily’s help.
Not My White Savior
Julayne Lee was born in South Korea to a mother she never knew. When she was an infant, she was adopted by a white Christian family in Minnesota, where she was sent to grow up.
Not My White Savior is a memoir in poems, exploring what it is to be a transracial and inter-country adoptee, and what it means to grow up being constantly told how better your life is because you were rescued from your country of origin. Following Julayne Lee from Korea to Minnesota and finally to Los Angeles, Not My White Savior asks what does “better” mean? In which ways was the journey she went on better than what she would have otherwise experienced?
One for the Murphy’s
A moving debut novel about a foster child learning to open her heart to a family’s love
Carley uses humor and street smarts to keep her emotional walls high and thick. But the day she becomes a foster child, and moves in with the Murphys, she’s blindsided. This loving, bustling family shows Carley the stable family life she never thought existed, and she feels like an alien in their cookie-cutter-perfect household. Despite her resistance, the Murphys eventually show her what it feels like to belong–until her mother wants her back and Carley has to decide where and how to live. She’s not really a Murphy, but the gifts they’ve given her have opened up a new future.
I listened to Lynda Mullaly Hunt’s Fish in a Tree on Scribd and loved it. Thankfully, this one is also on Scribd, and is next in my queue. Scribd is an unlimited library of ebooks and audiobooks. You can try it for two months free using my link.
[bctt tweet=”Check out this list of 13 books about adoption, including memoirs, middle-grade novels, YA, and of course, literary fiction.” username=”afomaumesi”]
I’m enjoying making these themed book lists, and I’d love to hear your thoughts on them. Many people loved the most recent one — books about mental illness. Do you have any theme you’d like to read more books about? I’ll make a list for you!
Which of the books have you read? Do you have any additions to this list? Please share.
Kate K. says
I’m similarly interested in adoption, and I haven’t read a single one of these (except the bonus Celeste Ng rec)! Will be adding to my ever-growing list!
Afoma Umesi says
I’m surprised you haven’t read any of these! But yay, at least you can add them to your TBR!
I have read – The Leavers, Little Fires Everwhere, Far from the tree, When we were yours
Afoma Umesi says
🙌🏾🙌🏾 that’s a good number of the recommendations! Which one did you most enjoy?
Little Fires Everywhere definitely