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Found in China

by Carolyn Stanek (Tai-Kai Productions; $19.99)

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There are moments in Found in China (Tai-Kai Productions; $19.99) that weaken the knees. Some of the girls find that the orphanage where they spent their first months of life has been torn down, a part of their past forever erased. One confronts the reality of the site where she was abandoned as a baby—a movie theater. On the day she was left there, it was bustling and well-lit, but now it’s empty and deserted. It looms like a haunted house.

But other scenes embolden the spirit: A nine-year-old named Eva meets the foster family who cared for her as a baby—and the mother can’t let go of her, kissing her cheek and stroking her face. Lilly, 11, is shocked and delighted to realize her importance to people whom she can’t even remember: Her former nanny pedaled an hour and a half on a bicycle to see her. "I never thought I was anything special," Lilly says. "I was just a normal American kid."

Found in China, by Illinois filmmaker Carolyn Stanek, could easily have been a stock account of a homeland tour. Instead, it is a thoughtful portrait of a complicated and life-changing trip. The girls in this film prove that the lost daughters of China are smarter, stronger, and more resilient than even we, their parents, could have imagined.

The 82-minute film opens with lots of girl-power enthusiasm, but the children become somber as they reach their home provinces and contemplate the possibility of living siblings and the reality of absent birthparents. "They might feel kind of sad that they gave me up," Lilly says. "But if they didn’t really want to talk to me, all I would want to know is if they are OK. Because for me, it’s just important to know if they’re OK."

The thousands of children adopted from China in the mid-1990s are now teenagers, or close to it, and people in the Chinese-adoption community are watching them. These kids will be the first to face issues of identity and self, and they’ll signal what younger children—and their parents— can expect. If the girls in Found in China are any indication, we’re all going to be fine.

Reviewed by Jeff Gammage, the author of China Ghosts: My Daughter’s Journey to America, My Passage to Fatherhood (William Morrow).

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