In the theme of adoption as it shows up in fiction, I’m continuing my interview series with authors whose novels touch the world of adoption.
TISH COHEN‘s The Search Angel (HarperCollins Publishers Ltd) releases in July 2013. She’s the bestselling author of both YA and adult novels, including The Truth About Delilah Blue, Inside Out Girl and Commonwealth Writers Prize finalist, Town House. The last two works have been optioned for film.
At what point in your novel process did you know you’d want one of your themes and character(s) touched by adoption?
With The Search Angel, I actually had fully formed characters in my head before I had a theme. My protagonist, Eleanor Sweet, went from being a suicidal librarian to the infertile owner of Boston’s finest baby store after a family member went through the process of looking for her birth parents. This person’s story was particularly poignant to me because what she learned about her birth family was not at all what she expected.
I then became obsessed with the entire adoption process and what each person involved might experience. Can the adopted child ever truly understand her birth mother’s choice? How does the birth mother cope with her choice years later, especially after having subsequent children? What about the adoptive parents—what fears and worries might they face?
As I went further along in my research, I became fascinated by search angels—individuals who dedicate much of their lives to reunite people with their birth families. Search angels have often given up a child of their own and help search when the state or province can no longer be of help. Typically, search angels work for free. That anyone could be so generous has touched my heart in a big way.
So while The Search Angel is about adoption, even more it is about the relationship between Eleanor Sweet and her search angel, Isabelle Santos, and about sometimes families take unexpected forms.
How does anything in your personal or professional life influence the use of adoption in your novel?
I’ve always been fascinated by relationships in which a person’s attachment bond has been severed at some point in childhood. A mother’s decision to give up her baby seems as big a choice as one can make. The lives of everyone involved would ripple with aftershocks from that day forward. I had to explore that.
Also, as I mentioned above, a close family member started the search for her own birth mother when her own child’s health required in-depth family history. What she found was not at all what she expected. There was joy, yes. But there was also a great deal of pain and a truth she never could have foreseen. It was almost as if she faced being given up a second time.
If you’re not touched by adoption in your immediate family, or even if you are, how much, if any, did you feel the need to research adoption?
Aside from the family member I mentioned above, I do have several close friends whose lives have been touched by adoption and all were generous enough to share their experiences. I also spoke to women who have given up infants and read every real-life adoption story I could find, whether in book form or on online adoption support forums. The very best part of my research was speaking to a search angel. Her insight shaped the entire book.
Why adoption? Why this as a life force in your novel and characters?
To give up your own child seems to me the most unselfish thing a parent can do. The decision would be exquisitely painful and complicated. All of my novels so far have featured at least one decision with lifelong effects and I don’t expect that to end anytime soon.