Tuesday, September 27, 2011

A Brief Chapter in my Impossible Life

A Brief Chapter in my Impossible Life

Bibliographic Information:

Reinhardt, D. (2006). A Brief Chapter in my Impossible Life. New York: Random House. ISBN: 0385746989.


This is starting to sound like Romeo and Juliet but with lots of hair and heavy dark clothing. It strikes me as totally absurd when I conjure up a picture of two ad-ass Orthodox kids breaking all the rules. -page 106

Plot Summary:

Simone is a 16 year old girl growing up in a staunchly liberal, atheistic household. Simone shares her families religious and political agendas, but there is one difference between them, that being that she is olive complexioned and they are blond hair, blue eyed, Caucasians. So, Simone is adopted. Here birth mother Rivka, contacts her and this gives Simone the oppertunity to settle a lot of unanswered questions. But she is also curious to why the contact is being initiated now? Simone does meet her birth mother, and finds out she is a Hasidic Jew who had Simone when she was her age, 16. The story unfolds further as Simone puts the pieces of her past together and builds a relationship with her birth mother.

Critical Analysis:
A Brief Chapter in my Impossible Life is a realistic/romantic fiction novel geared towards young women. There are two plots that interject: One, the reconnection of a young adoptee with her Hasidic Jew birth mother that is terminally ill, and two, the main character Simone's first romantic relationship. The story is told in modern time from Simone, a high school Junior's perspective. Initially the story starts out with open dialogue between Simone and the reader but, that style of dialogue is quickly dropped within the first few chapters and the narrative continues from Simone's point of view. Something else to note about Simone, is that her family are what some would consider idealistic, yuppie extremists. Not that I have a problem with that, but with Simone's mother being a lawyer for the ACLU, the family being fervent Athiests, over half of the narrative takes place at a local co-op, along with countless other liberal yuppie cliches, the story and ideologies come off too forceful to take seriously.

Also, there isn't much character build-up which didn't allow me to develop a relationship with any of the characters.

The characters motives and actions were so predictable that I had a difficult time enjoying much of this book. You would think that potentially the romantic fling that takes place between Simone and Gary, her barista crush at the co-op and fellow writer for the school newspaper, would spark more interest and appeal, but it does not. Simone fawns over Gary, he secretly has a "huge crush" on her ever since she showed up to get coffee one morning before an Athiest Alliance rally, and one day Gary calls Simone to ask her out on a date somewhat out of the blue. Their romance blossoms and Gary is more interested in being a supportive boyfriend to Simone and explaining Jewish culture than making-out, amongst other things.

This novel would be good light reading for a young woman but, does not promise to deliver any thought provoking questions, solve any real life issues, or deliver an insightful morale.

Gr. 9-12. Olive skinned and dark eyed, Simone looks nothing like her fair-haired family. She is, nonetheless, the beloved daughter of her adoptive parents and enjoys a close and supportive relationship with her younger brother. It therefore comes as a terrible intrusion in Simone's comfortable life when, after 16 years, her birth mother asks to meet her. After some resistance, Simone makes contact with Rivka, a 33-year-old self-exiled Hasidic Jew who is dying of ovarian cancer. Despite a fairly transparent setup, once Simone and Rivka are brought together, their shared story is developed with skill, attention to detail, and poignancy. Both Simone and Rivka are strong, complicated characters who benefit greatly from each other: Simone is gifted with her heritage and history and thus a richer identity, and Rivka is able to leave the world having known her daughter. Some sexual content and strong language in Simone's friendships and school life may make this an inappropriate selection for younger teens, and with a poorly representative cover, the book may require hand selling.

If read solely as adolescent fiction, this book is harmless fun. A young girl comes of age and finds her identity, albeit through a slightly less usual route (i.e. meeting with the woman who gave her up for adoption). In the process, she comes to terms with her own sexuality, ideas of family, and ethnic heritage as the daughter of a Jew.

The prose is neither bad nor extremely good, and I don't have enough knowledge of the Jewish heritage to comment intelligently about that portrayal. However, the portrayal of an adoptee is so insensitive and rooted in ignorance that it can be harmful to people using this book to understand an adoptee's experience.

Simone's parents are an odd mixture of extreme idealization (accepting Rivka without any anxiety on their own part or mixed feelings letting Simone get close to a woman who will soon die and possibly pose a competing interest) and insensitivity. While it's refreshing to see adoptive parents who are supportive of their adopted child's original family, it takes a great deal of skill and emotional maturity to navigate conflicting interests.

Given that they are portrayed so idealistically, however, it is odd how insensitive they are to Simone's initial anger and reluctance to meet Rivka. They don't bring up the topic gently, give her any hint why they are placing pressure on her, or give her space to express her fears and worries.

Finally, it strikes me as very selfish that Rivka has come back into Simone's life only to receive care and companionship for herself. Rivka does give some information about Simone's backstory, but the main part of their relationship is Simone caring for Rivka. The story is unbalanced in only presenting Rivka's needs rather than presenting Simone's equally legitimate needs.

In short, this entire story rang false. Read entirely as fiction without any grounding in truth it is a passable diversion, but as regards a portrayal of adoption it is potentially misleading and harmful for those involved in adoption.
-M. Kim (A reader's review)

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