Chosen
by Chandra Hoffman
Harper, 2010

Reviewed by Cathrine Troy

     Chosen is a dramatic page-turner, filled with trauma, lies, deceit, infidelity, sex, greed and unlikeable characters. It is the kind of book that could get you through a long flight with multiple layovers, and when you are finished, you can throw it away. Unfortunately, it sensationalizes the tender issues of adoption and demeans those involved in the adoption process.
     The Chosen Child, a fictional agency in Portland, OR, is the kind of agency that gives adoption agencies a very bad name. The agency seems to lack the understanding that adoptions are not sales subject to quotas. Placing a baby means a child is separated from his or her mother, a separation with lifelong effects for the child, the biological parents, and the adoptive parents. The Chosen Child Agency sees placing a baby as “closing the sale,” getting the birth mother to “sign” and providing a baby for couples where getting the money is the goal. The agency director is portrayed almost as a Madam, who sees her staff as the means to bringing in money. She is perceived by her staff as trying to heal a wound or fill some past emptiness (which is only rumored), by adopting “trophy” children from around the world. The children are literally described not only as trophies, but as “brats” with severe disabilities, causing noise and mess at the agency.
     Madam Agency Owner, however, is not the greediest character of them all. We get to know the intimate details of the lives of two adoptive couples and a couple who choose adoption for their baby. The adoptive mothers are presented as withered, barren, narcissistic, entitled women who are desperate for a healthy white newborn baby, only to be depressed, resentful and worn out by the babies that they finally “get,” (one through adoption and one finally through biology). The two husbands, once their wives have babies in their arms, have their wandering eyes on other women, even the agency social worker. Most disturbing are the drug-addicted, low-life, ex-con birth parents, whose greed and actions are the epitome of adoptive parents’ and agencies’ nightmares. Yet, unlike the other characters, there is something endearing about them as we experience the grief and desperation that underlies their greed.
     There is no empathy for the distressed crying baby who is seen, interestingly enough, as detoxing from nicotine and not grieving the loss of his mother. Instead of concern and empathy for her baby, the new mother expresses self-pity for having to deal with the crying, and anger that she was not told by the agency adoption worker that the mother smoked!
     The agency adoption worker, the central character of the novel, states many times that she is living her “dream job,” only to find herself discouraged and tired. She is a people-pleaser, working around the clock, pleasing the pregnant couple so that they will “sign” so that the director will be pleased, and the waiting couples will be happy. None of them is pleased. In the end, she develops some empathy for the relinquishing parents, at least the mother, motivating some illegal actions. Finally, however, she gives up her dream job and follows her boyfriend to paradise when she discovers her own unplanned pregnancy.
     The author states that her characters and the situations of the story are composites of what she experienced as an adoption worker. As the director of an adoption agency, I have dealt with agencies and adoption workers that are in it for the money. Yes, there are narcissistic, entitled couples who want healthy white babies because they can’t biologically have them. Yes, there are couples who cannot parent because they are on drugs and are looking for a handout. Yes, there are children who have been adopted who have more than their share of problems. But that is only part of the picture. Adoption is so much more: it is bittersweet, yes. We should live in a world where there is no need for adoption. But, I have always been an idealistic person, and I often think I should live in a world where there is not war, poverty, hatred, etc. I choose love stories over horror stories.
     As an adoptive mother, I know that adoption is a love story, often a heartbreaking love story. It is a love story filled with tears of grief, deep sorrow and relief, and tears of joy and long-awaited fulfillment. I have been humbled and honored to be in the presence of women and men who, with their hearts breaking, chose adoption for their child. I have cried for my children’s birth mothers, because I could not imagine bringing them into the world and not being able to raise them. I know adoptive parents who do not fear their child’s birth mother, but instead have embraced them and love them. I know adoptive parents who choose adoption not because they cannot have a child and need a child, but because there are children who need homes. And then, there are the children. They are not gifts, trophies, or brats, as the book describes them, but precious human beings whose lives will forever be altered by adoption.
     Chandra Hoffman chose to create a trashy novel, a horror story actually, around the greed and entitlement of adoption. I find that to be sad, irresponsible, and disrespectful to those of us involved in adoption.

Cathrine Troy, M.A., LPCC, ATR, is the Executive Director of All Ages Adoptions Plus, an Albuquerque adoption agency that handles domestic and international adoptions. She is also the adoptive mother of a daughter adopted from China and two sons adopted from Liberia.

Excerpted from the October 2013 edition of the Operation Identity Newsletter
© 2013 Operation Identity