The Red Thread: An Adoption Fairy Tale (2007) by Grace Lin.
There is certainly a need for more adoption stories. According to the 2000 Census data, there are 2.1 million adopted children in the U.S. and according to the U.S. Department of State there have been 224,615 international adoptions from 1999-2010. (Informative graphic, here.) Specifically from China, there have been 64,043 adoptions. I could not find any recent data about children who are adopted transracially versus same-race families, but just looking around, the fact of transracial adoption bears out.
Grace Lin created The Red Thead after “experiencing many warm and wonderful interactions with families with children from China” (taken from back flap). The fairy tale begins to weave it’s narrative with that archetypal gravitas from the opening scenes of the book.
One morning the queen woke up with a pain in her heart. It was a steady ache that filled her with sadness.
"I have a pain in my heart," she said to the king. "It is a hurt that will not leave."
"I feel it, too," the king said. "It feels as if my heart is tearing in two."
They seek out healers, doctors, scientists; no one has a cure. Then one day a peddler comes to town and gives them some magic eyeglasses. They suddenly see a red thread pulling at their hearts and are told that they will not stop feeling the tugging pain from the red thread until they find it’s source.
Their quest begins. Nothing will stop them. Their clothes become tattered. They are tired and weary but they go on, searching and searching.
The king and queen finally reached the shore of a faraway land. The red thread guided them to a small village.
…The king and queen… took little notice of anyone. The end of the red thread was within their sight. They ran to a small bundle in front of an old house.
…Inside the bundle was a baby! She was laughing and playing and tugging at the red threads tied around each of her ankles.
The tale ends with the king and queen taking the little baby back to their kingdom. “They never felt the pain in their hearts again. Instead, they were filled with joy and happiness.”
As I read this book, I was definitely drawn in. The red thread creates a sense of destiny for this family. But I was also left with some big questions. How much of this story is meant to create resolution for adoptive parents at the psychological expense of their adopted children? Is the book somehow saying that now that the baby has become a princess in a faraway land without her own customs and culture, she should just get on with her life and never look back? Her new parents walk through the baby’s original village with “little notice of anyone.” How will they raise their daughter to understand the culture of her birth?
It is much more complicated for an adopted child reading this story. And I also wonder what non-adopted children will learn about adoption from this fairy tale.
The pain may have been relieved for the king and queen when they found their daughter in that faraway land, but what of the pain their daughter carries? Where is the acknowledgment and resolution of her pain in this book?
this is why adoptees need to tell our own stories! i wonder if there are any adoptee children’s book authors, i hope there are. if anyone has recommendations, i’d be happy to get them! good review of the book though.