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The Language of Blood

by Jane Jeong TrenkaBorealis Books; $23.95

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Ever wonder what’s going on in your 8-year-old’s mind? How about your monosyllabic teen? How can adoptive parents tune into what their child is thinking and feeling about the heavy stuff, when just finding out how school went that day is a veritable tug-of-war?

Reading the works of adult adoptees can be a pathway into your own child’s inner dialogue and struggles. It can also provide you with a logical way to initiate and encourage conversations on some of the tough topics.

At first glance, The Language of Blood is a riveting, intimate look at the author’s life. Its artistic rhythm and flair deftly draw you in. But this book is much more than Trenka’s memoir. It’s a storehouse of insights, truth-telling, and well-articulated joys and pain.

As singular and personal as it is, Trenka’s story echoes the lives of thousands of adoptees and their families. Her identity struggle, her grief, her search for a cultural bond, and her ongoing journey to find a place where she belongs are common themes. As she navigates the complexities of her birth family reunion, it is easy to see how the bonds and definition of family become strained. Her story conveys powerful lessons about unconditional love and acceptance.

Trenka’s intricate, emotional writing is as courageous as it is compelling. The crucial times when parents need to understand and support their child; the ongoing necessity, continuing beyond childhood, for strong familial communication; the need to grieve the unconventional losses in adoption; the right of adoptees to know their beginnings—these are just some of the themes Trenka unflinchingly examines. You may squirm with discomfort at the ignorance and intolerance of many of the book’s characters. They serve as a reminder that some of the deepest hurts come from those closest.

It may be tempting to minimize the relevance of Trenka’s story, believing that it could have happened only in the past, in a less enlightened era. Yet parts of her story are echoed daily in many family dramas. This book can serve as a conduit to insights into our own families, to open up those conversations we’ve been meaning to have. Thank you Jane Jeong Trenka, for reminding us of where we have been and of how we can shape what lies ahead.

Reviewed by Deborah Johnson, the Executive Director of the Minnesota Adoption Resource Network, a first-generation Korean Adoptee, and the mother of two teenagers.

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