By Alan Berks and Leah Cooper
Illustrated by Becca Hart
Wonderlust Productions, 2021,
ISBN: 978-0-578-88139-3, $24.95, 274 pages
Packaged in the unexpected format of a graphic novel “In My Heart: The Adoption Story Project” offers a nuanced and inclusive discussion of the complex feelings around adoption and foster care.
Like a comic book, the graphic novel relies on illustrations and quick lines of dialogue to immerse readers in the characters’ world. The story centers on Alice, an adoptee, at her Wonderland-themed engagement party, and her sister Jen, who’s just returned from searching for her birth family in Korea. The fantastical party is a perfect backdrop for complicated family drama to unfold. Under the influence of cocktails playing the role of the “Drink Me” potion in the fairytale, Alice and her fiance Lewis’ family and friends each reveal their unique, and sometimes unknown connection to the adoption and foster care world.
The graphic novel format allows for many distinct experiences to be sprinkled in more deftly than traditional writing: Brief, powerful anecdotes pop up in random speech bubbles throughout the book without the need to introduce a whole character. It also serves as a fantastic vehicle for a quick history of how the adoption and foster care systems developed. Rather than dry blocks of text, decades of policy history dating all the way back to 1850 are summarized in a few pages of clever illustrations and witty banter.
The novel, which was adapted from a play, highlights a number of experiences and issues, including international and cross-cultural adoption, closed adoptions versus open, the history of forced assimilation of Indigenous children, and more. The stories included within are firsthand and crowd-sourced — authors Alan Berks and Leah Cooper (an adoptee herself) held dozens of listening sessions with birth and adoptive parents, adoptees and their siblings, social workers and kids in the foster care system, and others connected to the community. The authenticity of their perspectives shines through, and the illustrations by Becca Hart capture the emotions of the stories.
For anyone considering adoption, part of an adoptive family, or just interested in understanding this world more, “In My Heart” is a great resource for teens and adults alike, and an avenue to better understanding others’ complex feelings.
— Reviewed by Sara Tiano