Running Scared: A Novel
by Lisa Jackson
Zebra Books, 2010

Reviewed by Barbara Free, M.A.

     This novel, one of many written by Ms. Jackson, has a rather strange adoption story line. A young woman from a very wealthy Boston family, mostly alcoholic and violent, gives birth to baby boy, which she not only has no intention of keeping, but her family goes to great lengths, even criminal lengths, to hide the fact of the child’s existence. Abortion is apparently never considered. After all, they’re very religious Catholics, never mind the addiction, physical and emotional abuse, and even murder committed by this family.
     Another woman, recently widowed, has the chance to adopt the baby, provided she leaves the Boston area and never tells anyone, including the child, that he is adopted. Grieving for her own baby, who was killed in a car accident along with her husband, she accepts the child and agrees to the terms, although she knows there is some sort of inherent danger, She moves to Oregon and raises the child. Years later, when the boy is a teenager, circumstances change and she has to deal with the fact that he was never adopted legally, and that someone has found out she is covering up something. Her cover begins to unravel.
     Aside from personal annoyances at the author’s writing style and the need for a better editor, who might have caught some grammatical errors, impossible situations, and trimmed out some of the excessive adjectives and overdone descriptions of sexual activity, this reader was concerned about the portrayal of birth mothers and birth fathers, and of adoption in general.
     The birth mother is never described as having the least bit of caring for the child or anyone other than herself and a somewhat incestuous relationship with a cousin. Her family is a wealthy, ruthless Irish clan (the Irish don’t come across in a favorable light in this book at all) with as many creepy secrets as dollars. The adoptive mother, who loves the boy and is protective to the point of paranoia, doesn’t know the real truth of his origins. She is written as being wholesome, hard-working and perhaps a bit naive. Yet, her own behavior is sometimes less than stellar. The boy, for his part, has some peculiar clairvoyant abilities, adding to the strange mix. Seems he inherited these from his birth family.
     This novel is a mystery, but part of the mystery is how it got to be a best-seller. Extremely detailed descriptions of sexual arousal and nipples must sell lots of books these days. Also, the author, according to the book cover, has written no fewer than 75 novels. Apparently, she was asked to rewrite this one, originally titled Wishes, and in her own words it now has “new, more intense scenes.”
     One of the literary devices she uses is that the story, rather than being told from one point of view or narrator, seems to be told at times from each different character’s viewpoint, their thoughts and feelings as well as dialogue and action. This is more than a bit distracting and makes it difficult to follow at times, but that could be the English major in this reviewer coming through.
     The illegal and unethical circumstances of the non-adoption do eventually come to light, but the implication is that adoption is generally a nefarious happening. The problem of legality is rather easily corrected. Anyone who is leery of non-agency adoptions and does not understand that they may be completely legal and above-board will be further freaked out by this story, although one must remember it is fiction. However, as a mystery with many twists and turns, it is compelling reading. The ending, handled in a brief epilogue, is quite unexpected, and we won’t disclose it and ruin the book!
     For those readers who enjoy fiction and mysteries, and who enjoy having a story line that includes adoption, this book is available through Operation Identity’s lending library. It may also be in your local bookstore’s fiction section, or the library’s leave-a-book, take-a-book table.

Excerpted from the October 2011 edition of the Operation Identitiy Newsletter
© 2011 Operation Identity