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Somebody's Daughter

by Marie Myung-Ok Leereviewed by Eun Mi Young

Once I began reading Somebody's Daughter, I could not put it down. How could the author, who is not herself an adoptee, capture the feelings of one so well?

Lee writes in the first person as Sarah Thorson, a Korean adoptee, and in the third person as Kyung-Sook, Sarah's birthmother. I immediately identified with Sarah. Kyung-Sook is more distant, more difficult to understand, though, as a reader, you sympathize with her reasons for abandoning her child. Sarah's adoptive family also appears occasionally, as people who have given love, but have also shown incredible cruelty.

Sarah cannot see herself as Asian. She describes herself as the "fabulous Sarah Thorson," a blond-haired, blue-eyed daughter. As a child, when she caught glimpses of herself in mirrors, "that girl's Asian face was recognizable yet strange, like seeing your name writ large in an unfamiliar hand."

When Sarah meets nonadopted Koreans in a language program, her pain comes through loud and clear. "They all carried with them the solid stones of their past in one hand, and bright, shiny futures in the other," she observes. "For me, everything was vapor. I had to take it on faith that my past even existed."

On discovering the truth about her abandonment, Sarah directs her anger at her birthmother, who did not even bother to clean her child before leaving her, and at her adoptive parents, who created a fantastically tragic story to cover up the truth. Sarah's grief at the betrayals is overwhelming.

The encounter between the two women is heartbreaking. Since I like endings to wrap up neatly, I found myself talking aloud: "Go to the TV station, Omma. Tell them you are her mother!" But that was not to be. Yet, each woman finds a sad peace in the end, as befits her situation.

Buy this book for your teen, and read it yourself, as well. Be prepared to put yourself in the adoptee's frame of mind. It is written from our viewpoint, and it's a keeper.

Eun Mi Young is an adult adoptee and a graduate student who lives with her husband in San Antonio, Texas.

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