Finding Zoe by Brandi Rarus
Best for: People interested in learning a bit more about Deaf culture in the U.S. and who also have a strong stomach for not great writing and questionable storytelling.
In a nutshell: Deaf mother with three hearing sons desperately wants a daughter; Deaf husband not totally on board; teenager gets pregnant and surrenders daughter for adoption. True story.
Line that sticks with me: “He felt that part of the magic and mystery of giving birth to a child is parenting that particular child. However, he believed that the one benefit of adopting a child was being able to decide whether that child was right for his family.”
Why I chose it: A colleague selected this for our equity and social justice book club, as she was interested in learning about Deaf culture and about adoption.
Review: First, I should explain that the line that sticks with me is because I found that opinion really challenging and ultimately a bit offensive.
Author Brandi Rarus went deaf when she was six, and was raised in a hearing family. This story is mostly her story, and it is educational but ultimately frustrated me. The biographical parts of Ms. Rarus’s story are interesting, as she can effectively describe the different factions in Deaf culture, the challenges Deaf children can face in education and in determining where they fit and who they are in the hearing world. She also was involved in many important moments in Deaf history in the U.S., including the Deaf President Now protests at Gallaudet and the passage of the ADA. Additionally, she was Miss Deaf America.
I appreciate the honesty Ms. Rarus shares throughout the book but MAN does she put a lot of pressure on the imaginary daughter who eventually materializes in Zoe. She is essentially desperate for a daughter to add to her family of three boys, and while I’ll never understand that desire (I don’t have kids), I get that people have it. The frustrating part for me is the assumptions and the language she uses to describe her future child – basically she sounds like she wants a doll and a best girlfriend. It looks like it turned out okay but what if Zoe turned out to hate shopping or pretty clothes, and got along better with her father than mother?
Additionally, even though I just lauded the honesty, there is something about how all of the players involved in Zoe’s adoption are described that feels false. Like everyone got final review, so nothing is true. And there are so many players – the birth mother, the birth father, the first adoptive family, the foster family, and everyone’s extended family. It can be hard to keep up. There’s also a very confusing situation with the birth father and birth mother and the courts that makes zero sense to me – basically the birth father wants to keep Zoe, but the birth mother wants to place her up for adoption, so she sues to terminate the birth father’s rights so she can have full rights and then surrender the daughter. I just found it odd that courts would terminate parental rights without any cause just so the child could then be adopted. I’m sure there’s a legal reason, but the book doesn’t explain it.
There is a fair bit of religion in here, which is not my thing but was fine and obviously fits as it is part of their story. However, there were some glowing comments about what appears to be a crisis pregnancy center (yikes) and some disparaging and questionable comments about Planned Parenthood and abortion, so that was unpleasant to read.
And finally, I found the discussion the first adoptive family have when they find out that Zoe might have hearing and other developmental challenges to be deeply distressing. First, the idea that there is only ‘one’ good thing about adoption seems very narrow-minded. And the man who made the comment I shared above sounded a bit more like this adoptive father thinks of adopting a child is like picking out a puppy. I get the idea that when adopting, the child should be placed in the home that will be best for her, but more I think this particular father just wanted a more “perfect” child.