Book Review: Finding Miracles

This story of a teen adopted from Latin America tackles questions of identity, race, birth culture, and more.

Cover of Finding Miracles

By Julia Alvarez
Knopf; $15.95

Finding Miracles is the story of a teenager growing up in rural Vermont. Milly — short for Milagros, miracles in Spanish — was adopted from an unspecified South American country with a history of violence against its people. Despite her parents’ efforts to make her comfortable with her adoption, Milly will have none of it. That inspirational stuff is great, she thinks to herself, but it doesn’t take the feelings away.

When we meet 15-year-old Milly, she’s glad that she can pass as 100 percent American. In fact, it is usually her closeness in age to her sister (their parents’ biological child), not Milly’s appearance, that prompts strangers’ questions about her adoption. “Drawing Milly as a child who could blend in was purposeful,” said Julia Alvarez, in an interview. “One [adoptee] told me that blending in made it harder for her.”

A new student, Pablo Bolivar, moves to the area with his family, who are political refugees from Milly’s birth country. The relationship that grows between the two families forces Milly to confront her heritage. Milly joins the Bolivar family on a visit to their country, but the story does not conclude with the reunion the reader expects. Instead, it is a tale about an adoptee understanding why children become available for adoption and coming to terms with her identity as an adoptee.

Alvarez herself is not an adoptive parent, but in talking to several adoptees and adoptive families, she found similarities to the experiences of many of the minority students she teaches. They often feel as if they are forced to straddle two worlds.

Finding Miracles is a window into the shadow life children may lead even when their parents work to enhance an understanding of adoption and their culture. More importantly, perhaps, it gives adoptees permission to think whatever they want about their beginnings, and it admits that self-discovery may take time.


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