April 08, 2016

The Finding Place

by Julie Hartley
Red Deer Press
978-0-889-95533-2
244 pp.
Ages 10-14
September 2015

Thirteen-year-old Kelly, the narrator of The Finding Place, knows only that she’d been found outside a village school in Yangshuo, China before she’d been taken to an orphanage from which her parents adopted her at a few months of age. Other than being Chinese by birth, Kelly knows little of her beginnings and herself.  But this was always okay with her, until her dad leaves.  Not knowing why he left, where he was, and if he was coming back, Kelly is left filling in the blanks of that story with various possibilities, all that make her mom the bad guy.  Moreover, Kelly is starting to feel lost, unaware of who she truly is.
My Canadian identity came from my parents but, with Dad gone, how much of that was left? (pg. 44)
Like a typical teen, Kelly lashes out at her mother, Auntie Lou and best friend Raziel whenever they question her about what she’s thinking or doing.  Not surprising that Mom wants to find a way to connect with Kelly, so she plans a March break trip to China, hoping that it will help Kelly clarify some things about her birth place and ultimately herself.

But Mom’s debilitating headaches often leave Kelly alone and exploring–without permission–outside the hotel.  At times, she feels Chinese, empowered by trying out her Mandarin and being understood, and participating in a Tai Chi activity in a park.  But then the confusion returns.
Back in the lobby of our hotel, I stood for a moment among the American business peple and the western tourists with their cameras slung around their necks, and I thought, where do I belong? Here, where everyone except the desk staff looks like my parents, but thinks and speaks the way I do? Or out there in the real China where everyone looks like me, even though I can’t understand a single word they say? (pg. 110)
Her mom’s annoyance and anger with Kelly reveals her plan to move them from Toronto to Brantford to live with her Auntie Lou, giving them a fresh start.  Kelly is devastated, believing that her father would never come home then, disregarding the countless emails she’s sent him without response.

Their arrival in Yangshuo, ever closer to her finding place i.e., the spot where she’d been abandoned, brings them in contact with other parents picking up their adopted children, including a Toronto woman Clare whom Kelly met at the Bejing hotel and was adopting a child from the very orphanage that Kelly had resided in before her own adoption.

But, just like life, things do not run smoothly. Clare’s baby, Phoenix, is ill and may be kept from adoption; Mom did not apply for permission to visit the orphanage; and Kelly, who’d been convinced that her mother had been keeping her dad away, learns the real reason for his absence.  A life-threatening situation finally helps Kelly realize what she has in the way of an identity and that what seems like an end might just be a beginning.

I have always believed that every child should be able to see themselves somewhere in the books, hence the push for diversity in literature.  The Finding Place opens up that door to children who became part of new families through international adoption, here specifically from China.  Kelly’s story and perhaps that of Clare and Phoenix may or may not be similar to those of other girls adopted from China but it provides a starting place for filling in the blanks of their adoption and heritage.  Julie Hartley’s rigourous research (an interview with Julie Hartley at the end of the book will attest to this) provides a more complete background for Kelly’s story, though The Finding Place is still much more than a story of a child’s adoption.  It’s her story, absolutely, but it’s of finding herself: her beginnings, her place as a daughter, friend and niece, and as a part of a broken family.  Her struggles with self-determination and self-acceptance are the greater story of The Finding Place, though China does become the finding place by definition in a far greater manner than mother and daughter probably could ever have imagined.

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