HOME SCHOOL BOOK REVIEW
Book: Journey of The Adopted Self: A Quest For Wholeness
Author: Betty Jean Lifton
Publisher: Basic Books, reprinted in 1995
ISBN-13: 978-0465008117 (Hardcover)
ISBN-10: 0465008119 (Hardcover)
ISBN-13: 978-0465036752 (Paperback)
ISBN-10: 0465036759 (Paperback)
Language level: 3
(1=nothing objectionable; 2=common euphemisms and/or childish slang terms; 3=some cursing or profanity; 4=a lot of cursing or profanity; 5=obscenity and/or vulgarity)
Reading level: Adults
Rating: *** 3 stars (FAIR)
Reviewed by Wayne S. Walker
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Lifton, Betty Jean. Journey of The Adopted Self: A Quest For Wholeness (published in 1994 by BasicBooks, a division of HarperCollins Inc., 10 E. 53rd St., New York City, NY 10022). Our two sons, both now legally adults, were adopted. This book was given to us by a friend who had given a child for adoption many years ago and was recently reunited with her. Lost and Found, another book by Betty Jean Lifton, who herself was adopted, is called a “bible” to adoptees and to those who would understand the adoption experience. Journey of The Adopted Self is supposed to explore further the inner world of the adopted person. I will quickly have to say that not having been adopted myself I will never be able to understand what an adoptee goes through, but as an adoptive father I do have a vested interest in the subject. Basically, the book is a rant against the closed adoption system, implying that such a system is at the root of practically all adoption-related problems. I have no particular opinion regarding closed and open adoptions. Both of our adoptions were closed simply because that is what the law required at the times and in the places where they occurred. We have always tried to hide nothing but be as honest and truthful with our children about what we know concerning their background as we could be. I can see some situations in which open adoptions would be in the best interest of everyone involved, but I can also envision some circumstances in which close adoptions would be best.
The book also comes across as somewhat anti-adoptive parents. I doubt if the author intended it to be so, since she says that she has been a therapist for adoptees, birth parents, and adoptive parents, but the impression is left, at least it seems to me, that she is saying that all adoptive parents, even “good ones,” are part of the secret conspiracy to keep adoptees from learning the truth about their past. With all the references to Freud, various psychiatrists, psychoanalysts, and Jungian therapists, there is a lot of what I would call “psychobabble.” Almost all of the cases of adoptees which Lifton cites involve serious psychological problems, and I fully understand that such problems can be very real, but it sounds as if the claim is that all these problems must relate to being adopted. It is as if she has studied adoptees with serious problems and then used them as a basis for making generalized conjectures about all adoptees. Some bad language–some cursing and profanity and a little vulgarity–occurs in quotes, and the book has a section on “gay” adoptees. The author categorizes Moses along with Oedipus, Romulus, and Remus as a “mythic hero” who was adopted. She apparently supports the anti-family United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child. And she wrote that adoptees “believe that the different culture they came from doesn’t match up with the strict religious mores of the parents, especially when the Christian message of sin makes them feel a sense of shame about their conception and abandonment.” When all else fails, blame “the Christian message”!
Adoptees are generally pictured as being characterized by anger and/or depression, and the answer to all such difficulties seems to be found in searching for their birth mothers. And if adoptees are happy and don’t seem to feel anger or depression with a deep desire to find birth parents, then there must be something wrong with them anyway. For some adoptees this may be true, but perhaps not for all. In looking at reviews by adoptees, some recommended the book highly, while others said things like, “I was looking for validation of my feelings rather than more reasons to become angry and resentful – which is what happened with this book;” “I’ve never felt angry about my situation. While reading this book I got the feeling that I was expected to be angry;” “What I read was a lot of anger, stories of unsuccessful reunions, and a feeling that an adopted child can never reach peace with either family;” and “she seems to assume we are all not feeling ‘real’ ever….If we spend our whole life trying to undo or redo those initial moments of our life, we will waste all the time we have to walk this earth and hopefully leave it better than we found it. I often felt like saying to author – Get Over IT!” This is not to say that the book is all bad. Much of the advice that is given and many of the suggestions that are made mirror things that we were told by social workers in the adoption classes which we took, a lot of whom were themselves adoptees. I do appreciate the emphasis on adoptive parents always telling their children the truth. However, I found the conclusion of Publishers Weekly interesting. “An eloquent book, but only one side of an argument in which two reasonable sides exist.” To be honest, I found it rather negative generally and somewhat depressing.