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Stranger Care: A Memoir of Loving What Isn't Ours

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The moving story of what one woman learned from fostering a newborn--about injustice, about making mistakes, about how to better love and protect people beyond our immediate kin May you always feel at home. After their decision not to have a biological child, Sarah Sentilles and her husband, Eric, decide to adopt via the foster care system. Despite knowing that the system' The moving story of what one woman learned from fostering a newborn--about injustice, about making mistakes, about how to better love and protect people beyond our immediate kin May you always feel at home. After their decision not to have a biological child, Sarah Sentilles and her husband, Eric, decide to adopt via the foster care system. Despite knowing that the system's goal is the child's reunification with the birth family, Sarah opens their home to a flurry of social workers who question them, evaluate them, and ultimately prepare them to welcome a child into their lives--even if it means most likely having to give the child back. After years of starts and stops, and endless navigation of the complexities and injustices of the foster care system, a phone call finally comes: a three-day-old baby girl named Coco, in immediate need of a foster family. Sarah and Eric bring this newborn stranger home. "You were never ours," Sarah tells Coco, "yet we belong to each other." A love letter to Coco and to the countless children like her, Stranger Care chronicles Sarah's discovery of what it means to mother--in this case, not just a vulnerable infant but the birth mother who loves her, too. Ultimately, Coco's story reminds us that we depend on family, and that family can take different forms. With prose that Nick Flynn has called "fearless, stirring, rhythmic," Sentilles lays bare an intimate, powerful story with universal concerns: How can we care for and protect one another? How do we ensure a more hopeful future for life on this planet? And if we're all related--tree, bird, star, person--how might we better live?


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The moving story of what one woman learned from fostering a newborn--about injustice, about making mistakes, about how to better love and protect people beyond our immediate kin May you always feel at home. After their decision not to have a biological child, Sarah Sentilles and her husband, Eric, decide to adopt via the foster care system. Despite knowing that the system' The moving story of what one woman learned from fostering a newborn--about injustice, about making mistakes, about how to better love and protect people beyond our immediate kin May you always feel at home. After their decision not to have a biological child, Sarah Sentilles and her husband, Eric, decide to adopt via the foster care system. Despite knowing that the system's goal is the child's reunification with the birth family, Sarah opens their home to a flurry of social workers who question them, evaluate them, and ultimately prepare them to welcome a child into their lives--even if it means most likely having to give the child back. After years of starts and stops, and endless navigation of the complexities and injustices of the foster care system, a phone call finally comes: a three-day-old baby girl named Coco, in immediate need of a foster family. Sarah and Eric bring this newborn stranger home. "You were never ours," Sarah tells Coco, "yet we belong to each other." A love letter to Coco and to the countless children like her, Stranger Care chronicles Sarah's discovery of what it means to mother--in this case, not just a vulnerable infant but the birth mother who loves her, too. Ultimately, Coco's story reminds us that we depend on family, and that family can take different forms. With prose that Nick Flynn has called "fearless, stirring, rhythmic," Sentilles lays bare an intimate, powerful story with universal concerns: How can we care for and protect one another? How do we ensure a more hopeful future for life on this planet? And if we're all related--tree, bird, star, person--how might we better live?

30 review for Stranger Care: A Memoir of Loving What Isn't Ours

  1. 5 out of 5

    Olive Fellows (abookolive)

    I've read this memoir twice this year because I love it that much. It's devastating, but beautiful. I've read this memoir twice this year because I love it that much. It's devastating, but beautiful.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Jules

    I really thought I would love this book, given it covers so many areas of interest for me - alternative kinship structures, family, adoption/fostering, social work systems, trauma. I found myself judging Sarah and her husband mercilessly for their naivety and sense of entitlement shrouded in whale metaphors and seemingly selfless ideologies - I can't think of anything more selfish than the desire to own or possess a child which you have no claim to, as if any person can truly be owned by another I really thought I would love this book, given it covers so many areas of interest for me - alternative kinship structures, family, adoption/fostering, social work systems, trauma. I found myself judging Sarah and her husband mercilessly for their naivety and sense of entitlement shrouded in whale metaphors and seemingly selfless ideologies - I can't think of anything more selfish than the desire to own or possess a child which you have no claim to, as if any person can truly be owned by another anyway. I feel for everyone in this book because it's truly a case of nobody winning, and I need to talk about it IRL over a glass of wine!!

  3. 5 out of 5

    Jenny (Reading Envy)

    Wow, this book. After a failed placement earlier this year, I couldn't face it, and now in the middle of a foster situation (one that we hope leads to adoption), this book resonated with my experience in the state system even though she's talking about Oregon and then Idaho. Idaho prioritizes kinship and reunification at the highest rates in the country although I'd guess SC is not far behind, and this has an impact on how decisions are made by the state agents, the judges, the attorneys. I think Wow, this book. After a failed placement earlier this year, I couldn't face it, and now in the middle of a foster situation (one that we hope leads to adoption), this book resonated with my experience in the state system even though she's talking about Oregon and then Idaho. Idaho prioritizes kinship and reunification at the highest rates in the country although I'd guess SC is not far behind, and this has an impact on how decisions are made by the state agents, the judges, the attorneys. I think we all know foster care is a huge need and high turnover arena, both for families and workers. The system is highly flawed and there are so many children in bad situations, but she does a good job looking at the nuance of granting a government agency power to weigh in on whether a parent is "good enough" - this has led to terrible things as well, but this also means children are too often returned to homes that are at high risk for continued neglect. How can an overworked and understaffed agency make the right decisions? It also captures how foster families are treated - the hard sell to recruit but then once you're in the system you're told it's "not about you." There are so many things happening behind the scenes that foster parents don't have access to, and a child can be removed from your home for many reasons. And then there are all the little tricks people employ to find the babies everyone wants to adopt, leading to a lot of heartbreak. In the book, they have an infant but don't get to keep her, and along the way get to know the birth mother. Unlike Instant Mom by Nia Vardalos, I'm not sure this will sell anyone on becoming a foster parent, but maybe it's better to know what it's really like.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Jaclyn

    Sentilles beautifully and profoundly expands our understanding of what it is to mother, to tend, to love. Her prose has a clear eyed quality that is truly breathtaking, same as in her previous book Draw Your Weapons. She reminds us of our shared humanity through this beautiful and brutal story of fostering a baby in need. With the lightest touch Sentilles draws on the natural world of trees and birds to draw powerful parallels between her family and the wider world. She allows the reader to feel Sentilles beautifully and profoundly expands our understanding of what it is to mother, to tend, to love. Her prose has a clear eyed quality that is truly breathtaking, same as in her previous book Draw Your Weapons. She reminds us of our shared humanity through this beautiful and brutal story of fostering a baby in need. With the lightest touch Sentilles draws on the natural world of trees and birds to draw powerful parallels between her family and the wider world. She allows the reader to feel clever and work to decipher these deeper meanings but of course the work is hers in laying them bare for us. I doubt I will read a more profound and powerful book for a long while. This is the kind of book that alters you, makes you kinder, opens your heart up.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Gillian

    This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here. I wanted to love it. I work in foster care, and I wanted to love it so badly. It started strong, and it was undeniably beautifully written. However, it quickly became clear that she was not hearing a word that the social workers were telling her about working toward reunification. No one addressed that almost every child, no matter how horrific the abuse, even if it's sexual abuse, wants to go home. The couple was very self-absorbed with little to no self-awareness, with only fleeting moments of I wanted to love it. I work in foster care, and I wanted to love it so badly. It started strong, and it was undeniably beautifully written. However, it quickly became clear that she was not hearing a word that the social workers were telling her about working toward reunification. No one addressed that almost every child, no matter how horrific the abuse, even if it's sexual abuse, wants to go home. The couple was very self-absorbed with little to no self-awareness, with only fleeting moments of recognizing their own privilege. She essentializes, cites overly simplified if not outright incorrect facts, and pats herself on the back for recognizing an aggressively racist family is racist. Wow. You go, girl. She also victim shames the birth mother for going back to her abuser. I almost wished she were at my agency so I could tell her that a) we're looking for fit parents, not perfect parents, and b) we are not an adoption agency. I would tell her that there's no need to tell every person you see that she's a foster child. I would tell her that making up interactions with store clerks who are glad they were put in foster care is unnecessary, as are a number of other interactions that made me roll my eyes. I would tell her that one of our top priorities is keeping siblings together, even if they're babies. I would tell her that no shit we wouldn't leave our children with birth parents, but that everyone deserves a chance to parent their own children. I did like her therapist, who I felt gave good insights, especially about how she needed to suck it up and root for the birth mother. I thought the writing was elegant, and there were moments of poignancy. Regardless, I walked away still rooting for the birth mother. I gave 2 stars because the prose really was pretty. Otherwise, I felt it gave an incomplete and condescending view of foster care and the families involved.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Melinda

    I cannot in good conscience recommend this book to anyone. To be clear, the author is an amazing storyteller. She writes in amazing prose, and every page and every chapter was beautifully written and constructed. It was the only reason I was able to read from cover-to-cover, but not even beautiful prose can hide one's misguided intentions and entitled behavior. By the end of the book, I could not help but feel the author and her husband took advantage of the foster care system and acted in compl I cannot in good conscience recommend this book to anyone. To be clear, the author is an amazing storyteller. She writes in amazing prose, and every page and every chapter was beautifully written and constructed. It was the only reason I was able to read from cover-to-cover, but not even beautiful prose can hide one's misguided intentions and entitled behavior. By the end of the book, I could not help but feel the author and her husband took advantage of the foster care system and acted in complete opposition to the *central* mission foster care system: reunification. Despite the hours and hours of foster-parent training, the author and her husband never intended to open their homes to children in need, but were in constant search of the perfect child they could adopt: newborn, no physical deficits, no mental deficits, no siblings, and no relatives. I was disappointed to read several pages dedicated to dissing other foster parents they ran into who had opened up homes to disabled children or "racists" foster parents they didn't agree with. It was written with undertones that everyone else was fostering for the money, but the author? They were doing it with some higher pure intention. If you have read Little Fires Everywhere, this story will deepen your sorrow for children that are caught in the battle between childless-mothers and helpless-mothers.

  7. 4 out of 5

    Emily

    I love memoir and I really appreciated the honesty and vulnerability the author showed. Having said that, I have conflicted feelings about basically everything in this book. Which, I think was the point? The whole time I couldn't help but think WHYYYY are they choosing to go through this so unnecessarily?? She knew all along that adoption via foster care was so unlikely, and that her personal goal, adoption, conflicted with the very clear goal of the state, which is reunification. It smells slig I love memoir and I really appreciated the honesty and vulnerability the author showed. Having said that, I have conflicted feelings about basically everything in this book. Which, I think was the point? The whole time I couldn't help but think WHYYYY are they choosing to go through this so unnecessarily?? She knew all along that adoption via foster care was so unlikely, and that her personal goal, adoption, conflicted with the very clear goal of the state, which is reunification. It smells slightly of a martyr complex. Also, I feel like she had to have exaggerated and oversimplified nearly all of the dialogue between herself and everyone working for DHS. I understand people say dumb things, and I get there were complicated feelings she was trying to convey about the relationships between her and the social workers, but seriously, some of it was so obviously....just dumb. I don't normally bother writing reviews, but whew, this book gave me feelings!

  8. 5 out of 5

    Angela

    A complicated review: 4 stars because foster care is a subject that needs to be discussed. We need to do better for these children. 2.5 stars because I don't understand why the author chose foster care. I think private adoption would've been a better fit for her. I really, really, really disagree with her motivations and reasoning. That being said, I think her writing about the difficulties involved in navigating the department of child welfare is important. I believe there has to be a better way t A complicated review: 4 stars because foster care is a subject that needs to be discussed. We need to do better for these children. 2.5 stars because I don't understand why the author chose foster care. I think private adoption would've been a better fit for her. I really, really, really disagree with her motivations and reasoning. That being said, I think her writing about the difficulties involved in navigating the department of child welfare is important. I believe there has to be a better way to serve hurting families. I'm still learning about what that way might be. I encourage anyone who reads this book to get involved somehow. Learn about Safe Families for Children: an organization striving to strengthen struggling families and keep them together. (This is the organization we volunteer with) Be a good, helpful, motivated CASA volunteer. Become a foster parent. Support a foster family!! (This is so needed)

  9. 4 out of 5

    Text Publishing

    The following book reviews have been shared by Text Publishing – publisher of Stranger Care ‘A beautiful, harrowing, and profound memoir about what it means to love and to mother, to belong and let go…I found myself holding my breath as I read…I love this book so much it hurts. It’s a powerful, heartbreaking, necessary masterpiece.’ Cheryl Strayed, author of Wild ‘This is the only book about parenting that I would recommend to anyone, because it strikes at the essential, complicated and heartbre The following book reviews have been shared by Text Publishing – publisher of Stranger Care ‘A beautiful, harrowing, and profound memoir about what it means to love and to mother, to belong and let go…I found myself holding my breath as I read…I love this book so much it hurts. It’s a powerful, heartbreaking, necessary masterpiece.’ Cheryl Strayed, author of Wild ‘This is the only book about parenting that I would recommend to anyone, because it strikes at the essential, complicated and heartbreaking core of what parents do every moment of every day: love…No matter what.’ Emily Rapp Black, author of The Still Point of the Turning World ‘A gripping and beautiful memoir about marriage, family, bureaucracy, community, heartbreak and hope. With wisdom and honesty, Sarah Sentilles shares a personal story that is also a story about how we live…and why we must find new ways to love and care for one another.’ Ben Rhodes, author of The World as It Is ‘A book that calls us to redefine what it means to have and make a family, to expand our understanding of what and who belongs, and to care more and better for those around us…It broke my heart wide open in the best possible way.’ Lacy M. Johnson, author of The Reckonings ‘Breathtaking and heartbreaking and smart and hopeful…I less read Stranger Care than inhaled it, in the first place because I genuinely could not put it down but mostly because it felt like this story entered my bloodstream and changed me…This is a memoir for everyone.’ Laurie Frankel, author of This Is How It Always Is ‘An illuminating and heart-wrenching look at the foster-care system…Sarah’s personal experience as a foster parent, combined with her reportorial examination of a deeply flawed system, makes Stranger Care a transformative revelation.’ Piper Kerman, author of Orange Is the New Black ‘This book is sublime in its craft and its heart. Sentilles’ power is not only that her message about our shared humanity comes as revelation—that our personal and collective survival depends on converting pain into love. Her power is that she leads by example in this stunning book.’ Sarah Krasnostein ‘Be warned: your heart will be altered by Stranger Care. Sarah Sentilles has written a book that the whole damn world needs to read—a book on caring, on radical empathy, on how to hold rage and grief and pure love simultaneously within the body. In language that strikes and soars and sings, Sentilles honours the child at the centre of Stranger Care. In doing so, she shows us all how we might better look after each other.’ Kate Mildenhall 'Sentilles beautifully and profoundly expands our understanding of what it is to mother, to tend, to love. Her prose has a clear eyed quality that is truly breathtaking...I doubt I will read a more profound and powerful book for a long while. This is the kind of book that alters you, makes you kinder, opens your heart up.’ Jaclyn Crupi How far can we extend our care and compassion? What does it take to love people who stand in the way of our desires? Full of the urgency of mother-love, Stranger Care is heartrending: at once harrowing and tender, bruising and wise.’ Jessie Cole ‘Beautifully written and elegantly structured, Stranger Care is both gripping and meditative. Sarah Sentilles invites us not only to think about our vulnerability and interdependence, but to feel them. This is a book for everyone because it goes to the heart of the human condition. It is a book about love.’ Peter Mares ‘Sarah Sentilles hands you the weight of wanting and lets you touch and feel every possible configuration of love. This generous book burns with an inextinguishable vulnerability that will scorch your heart and keep you warm. Sarah Sentilles applied to foster because she wanted to believe in a world where people cared for one another. She has shown us what that world could look like. This book shows us the brutality and bravery involved in upholding the only rule of parental love—that it must be unconditional.’ Gina Rushton ‘Heart-searing…With a sharp eye for the details that fill their days with joy, counterweighted by the sorrows that bring the couple to their knees, Sentilles uses the sheer power of her writing to lift their story above the failures of flawed adults and to remind us of the human heart’s limitless capacity for hope.’ BookPage (starred review) 'If you don’t know Sarah Sentilles you should seek her out. Go read her earlier books. She’s a writer of uncommonly beautiful creative nonfiction her pages filled with grace and honesty…The honesty and humanity in this book is astonishing.’ Readings ‘Gut-wrenching.’ New York Times 'Sentilles is uncommonly wise and brave. The honesty and humanity in this book is astonishing.' Gab Williams, Readings Malvern 'Exquisite… Sentilles gives a powerful sense that caring is an individual and collective act.' Australian 'One of those authors who inspires devotion, no matter the topic. She invites the reader inside her thought process as she wrestles with ideas, in a way that is both generous and gorgeously articulate.' InDaily 'A must read for anyone who wants to hear about different approaches to making a family.' Oxford Hub 'A profoundly moving account that I cannot recommend highly enough...I could continue to gush about this memoir but I will simply say that this is a tale full of heart and heartbreak, and you cannot read it and come out the same on the other side. Indeed, you can only emerge a more compassionate human being, the way Sarah has.' Where the Books Go 'A heartbreaking and poignant examination of what it means to be a mother.' MamaMia 'Stranger Care is the story of what happens when the unassuageable love of parents meets blind bureaucracy and the incontestable claims of blood. It is also an account of one couple's ordinary heartbreak that expands outward, testing our assumptions of what kinship may consist of, asking what love we owe those beyond the usual parameters of family.' Saturday Paper '[A] heart-wrenching memoir about the role of the foster parent.' Sunday Life 'This book demands an empathy that is difficult to qualify.' New Daily 'I loved it…I cried many times as I read this book, and felt not just moved but honestly, literally rearranged by it—as if, on the other side of feeling shattered by it, I was also built up again differently.' Leslie Jamison 'A personal and intimate story.' RNZ 'Written with Sentilles' characteristic sensitivity, Stranger Care is a deeply moving story about our capacity to love those children who don’t belong to us, but who so desperately need us.’ SMH/Age

  10. 4 out of 5

    Courtney

    I will not be recommending this book to others. Couple issues with this book, from minor to major: 1) the description of caring elements found in nature was overdone. Like, medium-well, burned to a crisp overdone. 2) stylistically mimicking "In The Dream House" felt wrong for the subject matter of this book 3) this author clearly doesn't care about anyone except herself and has no respect for the foster care system. The entire book, she writes herself as the hero. She wants what she wants, and she I will not be recommending this book to others. Couple issues with this book, from minor to major: 1) the description of caring elements found in nature was overdone. Like, medium-well, burned to a crisp overdone. 2) stylistically mimicking "In The Dream House" felt wrong for the subject matter of this book 3) this author clearly doesn't care about anyone except herself and has no respect for the foster care system. The entire book, she writes herself as the hero. She wants what she wants, and she wants a baby. Oh, but "adoption is too expensive" (or whatever her reason against adoption was, she was unclear). Instead, she'll go the easy route and adopt a kid (excuse me- a *baby*, because taking in a child in need....what, won't fulfill some primal instinct she has to hold a baby on her chest?) from a parent who wants their child. Who loves their child. I think my biggest issue was her turning down taking in children in need because they didn't fit her image of HER life. She wanted a baby (within reason, you can't possibly expect her to take in a baby with HEALTH PROBLEMS, how could she possibly care for them?!). And honestly, that's fine: it's OK to want a baby. Many people want babies. What's not ok is integrating yourself into a system designed to protect children of all ages and support families, and treat it as your own easy road to infant adoption. If you want an infant that you "get to keep", adopt. Be honest with yourself about your intentions.

  11. 4 out of 5

    Anelie

    This was not what I was expecting and it did disappoint a bit. Sarah wants a baby and she and her spouse eventually agree that adopting through foster care is the best way to accomplish this. But during the process they move from Oregon to Idaho which is a reunification first state. They don't do any research so they don't know this when they start the foster parent process. This is the story of the one baby they cared for in the hope that they would be able to adopt her. She writes well and the This was not what I was expecting and it did disappoint a bit. Sarah wants a baby and she and her spouse eventually agree that adopting through foster care is the best way to accomplish this. But during the process they move from Oregon to Idaho which is a reunification first state. They don't do any research so they don't know this when they start the foster parent process. This is the story of the one baby they cared for in the hope that they would be able to adopt her. She writes well and the story of how she and her spouse bonded with the baby is powerful. I feel as though I read this under false pretences. They clearly had no interest in fostering for the sake of fostering so her brief and intermittent mentions of "stranger care" seem deceptive. I also disliked her and her spouse for their inability to be honest with themselves or the people they worked with about their intentions. They were honest that they were in it to adopt and that they wanted a baby but I think they used the state because they didn't want to explore actual adoption. It really felt like they wanted to present themselves as ingenuous but instead came across as manipulative. I don't like to criticize memoirs because I think that people are entitled to tell their stories. But these people came across as self-centered and spoiled and that the story they were hoping for didn't happen is at least partly their responsibility.

  12. 4 out of 5

    CJ Alberts

    A beautiful and moving memoir about the foster care system and the concept of mothering. Sentilles expertly weaves together her own deep personal relationship to her foster daughter, Coco, while also exploring more meta themes of what being interconnected to one another truly means. These themes show up in varied subject matter -- nature writing, examinations of whiteness, tree ecology, the border crisis, and the failures of the deeply broken adoption system. Heart shattering and hopeful. I loved A beautiful and moving memoir about the foster care system and the concept of mothering. Sentilles expertly weaves together her own deep personal relationship to her foster daughter, Coco, while also exploring more meta themes of what being interconnected to one another truly means. These themes show up in varied subject matter -- nature writing, examinations of whiteness, tree ecology, the border crisis, and the failures of the deeply broken adoption system. Heart shattering and hopeful. I loved it.

  13. 5 out of 5

    Jennifer Blankfein

    Wow! Emotionally drained with many tears to dry….such selflessness and bravery- fostering a child with hopes for adoption but things don’t end up as planned. A moving memoir - beautifully written with so many references to nature. Loved this book so much 💕

  14. 5 out of 5

    Monica Stopha

    Flew through this book, beautiful beautiful writing style. Certainly one I will reread. An honest look at the beauty and pain of foster care & motherly love.

  15. 5 out of 5

    Mara

    Stranger Care by Sarah Sentilles is an affecting and beautifully vulnerable memoir that documents her experience leading up to and becoming a foster parent. Sentilles and her husband decide to become foster parents for simultaneously altruistic and selfish reasons. They want a baby, but do not want to bring another child into the world. At first, they don’t fully comprehend that in order for them to get a foster child, something has to go horribly wrong for another family. The majority of people Stranger Care by Sarah Sentilles is an affecting and beautifully vulnerable memoir that documents her experience leading up to and becoming a foster parent. Sentilles and her husband decide to become foster parents for simultaneously altruistic and selfish reasons. They want a baby, but do not want to bring another child into the world. At first, they don’t fully comprehend that in order for them to get a foster child, something has to go horribly wrong for another family. The majority of people who apply to become foster parents are related to a child currently in the foster care system. When foster parents are not related to a child that they are fostering, this is considered “stranger care.” The memoir is separated by chapter into a collection of short vignettes. Sandwiched between the author’s experiences are ruminations on so many things relating to their journey, largely examples from the natural world. This reminded me a little of Wintering by Katherine May. The author is clearly very thoughtful and educated on a myriad of subjects. Sentilles shines a light on the issues with the foster care system, such as overextended social workers, inconsistent polices, and family reunification even when it may not be in the best interest of the child. Sentilles documents her contradictory thoughts and emotions over this process in such a clear, delicate manner. As a parent, it was at times incredibly heartbreaking to read. She gets to know the biological mother of the child that is placed with them, but has trouble with her conflicting emotions. How can you support and hope for a child’s mother to get better and yet keep her child from her? What is the best action and how do you cope with constant uncertainty? The couple goes through so much with the foster care system and the child’s biological parents. Stranger Care is a truly profound memoir that fully expresses the love parents have for their children. Thank you Random House / Text Publishing for providing this ARC.

  16. 5 out of 5

    Madeline

    wow, this book..! more than anything I feel it really goes to show that even very educated, progressive people that /know/ the violent history of adoption, can still choose their own desires over that knowledge the structure has little mini essays interspersed among many small chapters of her story, including imagery of mother whales and grafted fruit trees, but also references to how brown and black families are over policed and therefore disproportionately separated; the very recent practice of wow, this book..! more than anything I feel it really goes to show that even very educated, progressive people that /know/ the violent history of adoption, can still choose their own desires over that knowledge the structure has little mini essays interspersed among many small chapters of her story, including imagery of mother whales and grafted fruit trees, but also references to how brown and black families are over policed and therefore disproportionately separated; the very recent practice of abduction, adoption and assimilation of native children; the pain and trauma of family separation at the US border. these little passages, along with moments of foreshadowing, made me feel like her past experience, naive to the foster system and motivated by some need to “help” and personal desires for a baby would by the end of the book give way to a different, nuanced perspective. with this in mind, while reading, I thought her confessional style was really vulnerable; I thought, wow, it takes a lot to admit this kind of possessiveness and these negative things she’s feeling, that clearly aren’t in line with the training and the expectations of the foster system, and I have empathy for that. but ultimately she still lays claim to this baby, even though she /knew/ the goal of the foster system is to provide emergency shelter and work towards family reunification and she understood on a theoretical level why reunification is so important. and she writes in a way that makes her the victim — she and her husband are humanized and every decision rationalized away what is a memoir if not someone presenting their story for your consumption and empathy — this author shows us she both understands the violence of her actions and still asks for our understanding and absolution. but all this being said, I loved actually reading the book, it is so beautifully written and and I think with a critical eye it’s really useful to think about and engage w and think about

  17. 4 out of 5

    Christopher Dickerson

    A memoir of love, family, foster care, and grief, and in my eyes a shinning example of the depth of parenthood. Blood is not and never has been thicker than water, in my experience. This book hit close to home as I went through similar training to become a foster parent, in hopes of adopting. Fortunately, our experience was much more positive (our children were no longer on the reunification path like Coco) but I am thankful to have read this book as it helped me fully grasp how fortunate we wer A memoir of love, family, foster care, and grief, and in my eyes a shinning example of the depth of parenthood. Blood is not and never has been thicker than water, in my experience. This book hit close to home as I went through similar training to become a foster parent, in hopes of adopting. Fortunately, our experience was much more positive (our children were no longer on the reunification path like Coco) but I am thankful to have read this book as it helped me fully grasp how fortunate we were throughout the foster/adoption process. Foster parents are special people, especially ones like the author and her husband. Raising another persons child, as your own, is complicated at every stage in the process, but raising a baby knowing the chances of losing her but still choosing love over fear, is essential to becoming a parent. I left this book feeling grateful, sad, and hopeful, all in the same moment.

  18. 5 out of 5

    Janilyn Kocher

    I had a lot of thoughts while reading this book. It’s about one couple’s experience being foster parents, hoping to adopt. At first, the author is focused on having her own child, even though her husband had a vasectomy. She gives him an ultimatum in order to stay married and they decide to pursue adoption. She seemed to be all over the place with that as well since they were offered many children, but kept declining. They finally get a baby and become very emotionally invested, knowing their st I had a lot of thoughts while reading this book. It’s about one couple’s experience being foster parents, hoping to adopt. At first, the author is focused on having her own child, even though her husband had a vasectomy. She gives him an ultimatum in order to stay married and they decide to pursue adoption. She seemed to be all over the place with that as well since they were offered many children, but kept declining. They finally get a baby and become very emotionally invested, knowing their state emphasized reunification. It’s a sad ending, with all sides losing, in my opinion. The book really showed the flaws of the foster care system. The real victims are the kids who didn’t ask for any of this, but have to deal with all of the consequences. Thanks to Random House and NetGalley for the early read.

  19. 4 out of 5

    Veronica Patrice

    This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here. I read this book in 24 hours. It was well written and a very realistic look at the foster care system. But, I found myself getting frustrated with Sarah. She is incredibly naive. She doesn’t seem to get it that the point of foster care is to reunify with the biological parents. I felt frustrated when she kept turning down foster care placements because she only wanted a baby. The point of foster care is to care for children in need until they can go back to their families not for people to get a I read this book in 24 hours. It was well written and a very realistic look at the foster care system. But, I found myself getting frustrated with Sarah. She is incredibly naive. She doesn’t seem to get it that the point of foster care is to reunify with the biological parents. I felt frustrated when she kept turning down foster care placements because she only wanted a baby. The point of foster care is to care for children in need until they can go back to their families not for people to get a baby. I don’t understand why she agreed for Eric to get the vasectomy if she wanted a baby so bad. I wonder if he pressured her into agreeing because he didn’t want a baby. It seems like things would have been much easier if Sarah would have just gotten pregnant and had her own baby.

  20. 5 out of 5

    Rachel B

    Abandoned after 12% read. Sentilles has very different beliefs about God than I do, and her attitude rubbed me the wrong way. There's a lot of profanity in the short amount that I read - the author seems especially fond of the f-word. I really hated the writing style most, though. The super-short essay style reads choppily, and the writing screams, "I'm trying desperately to write something profound." Also, I expected that this far in, we'd be hearing about the kids or more of the process of fosteri Abandoned after 12% read. Sentilles has very different beliefs about God than I do, and her attitude rubbed me the wrong way. There's a lot of profanity in the short amount that I read - the author seems especially fond of the f-word. I really hated the writing style most, though. The super-short essay style reads choppily, and the writing screams, "I'm trying desperately to write something profound." Also, I expected that this far in, we'd be hearing about the kids or more of the process of fostering. Instead, it's a lot of navel-gazing.

  21. 5 out of 5

    Kimmie

    I really loved the memoir aspect of this book and was riveted by the description of her experience as a foster mom. I was bored by the alternating sections about nature and dreams- I know the point was to relate her experience of mothering to things in nature but it felt like way too many examples to me.

  22. 4 out of 5

    Lea

    Read this in two days this summer. It is still in my thoughts regularly. It shook and shattered me. This brave, vulnerable, strong woman (who my SIL knows from Hailey, ID) shares the heartbreak and love that came from fostering Coco. Not for the weary, but you will close the book with a heavy heart, admiration, perspective and disbelief.

  23. 4 out of 5

    Ika Willis

    Or five stars if you read it as a horrific indictment of parenting, but I don't think that's what the book thinks it's doing. About one-third of this book consists of nice enough sentimental reflections on complex kin and social bonds in the plant and animal kingdoms, and explicit discussions about how a narrow notion of a "family" works against a more open way of doing kinship/society where we accept our interdependence and mutual vulnerability. The second third is about the history of foster car Or five stars if you read it as a horrific indictment of parenting, but I don't think that's what the book thinks it's doing. About one-third of this book consists of nice enough sentimental reflections on complex kin and social bonds in the plant and animal kingdoms, and explicit discussions about how a narrow notion of a "family" works against a more open way of doing kinship/society where we accept our interdependence and mutual vulnerability. The second third is about the history of foster care and adoption, and the ongoing unjust separation of children from their poor, immigrant, and/or non-white families on the basis that rich white people can give them a better life. In this context, the final third of the book is a horror story about parents as the most selfish people on the planet: we want to have the experience of parenting so we are going to cause an entire human to exist to satisfy our desires is bad enough, but even worse is we want to have the experience of parenting, so we deserve someone else's baby more than she does and we are going to spend years fighting through the court system until we can take it away from her. Sarah Sentille and her husband Eric registered as foster carers, then turned down tens of potential foster children (don't worry though! they know this is bad and they cry and cry about it and feel so awful and conflicted!) because Sarah wanted a very specific kind of child: an undamaged infant ("I NEEDED to mother an infant"), but one that they would have a good chance of adopting because the rest of its biological family were incapable of caring for it. (The author says she "doesn't know" why they didn't go for adoption rather than fostering - a choice which would have made this whole story much less bizarre and painful.) They somehow scored just such a baby, and looked after her for the first nine months of her life, working with a team of social workers who constantly emphasised that the goal was to get the baby back to her mum. They wished and wished and wished that the mum would relapse back into addiction or get hit by a truck (don't worry though! they know this is bad and agonise about it in therapy!) but unfortunately she survived and was reunited with her baby. They are continuing to pursue every legal remedy they can to get the child back, because they want her and they deserve her, even though this damn legal system doesn't seem to understand that, and insists that just because you are a better parent than the child's biological and legal mother, you can't just TAKE THE CHILDREN AWAY. For some reason. Maybe for the reasons documented in the other two strands of the book, and thus known perfectly well to the author? Anyway, honestly, I am a very angry and hateful reader a lot of the time and I try to rein it in where I can, because books are lovely and writing them is hard and in general I think the best way to be in the world is to assume that everyone is doing the best they can with limited resources, just like me, but I cannot help being snarky and angry and mean about this book.

  24. 4 out of 5

    Ellen Margolese

    I have really mixed feelings about this book. 4 start for the writing. 2 for the narrative about their approach to fostering. The writing is beautiful. The inter spaced explorations of connection And “family” in the natural world are moving. As someone with experience in the world of adoption, I was irritated by the author. She and her husband chose not to have a biological child but to adopt. They seemed to only want to adopt a newborn and a child without known health or behavioural challenges. I have really mixed feelings about this book. 4 start for the writing. 2 for the narrative about their approach to fostering. The writing is beautiful. The inter spaced explorations of connection And “family” in the natural world are moving. As someone with experience in the world of adoption, I was irritated by the author. She and her husband chose not to have a biological child but to adopt. They seemed to only want to adopt a newborn and a child without known health or behavioural challenges. If you want to foster to adopt, there are many children who are already legally free. If you want a newborn, there is private adoption. (Albeit not an easy route). There is an expression in the world of adoption. It is about families for children, not children for families. The author seems to have got that backwards. While I was saddened at the outcome for Coco, in the end, I didn’t feel much empathy for the author who seemingly was in this to get a baby. Foster care is certainly not for everyone and is heartbreaking and challenging, however, the author and her husband never seemed to be invested in becoming foster parents in order to care for children in a time of need. It all seemed to be about finding a child to keep. In the end, I just did not like them or their approach.

  25. 4 out of 5

    Julia Jenne

    This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here. The writing was incredibly beautiful, well paced, engaging and I loved the very well-researched interludes about mothering across cultures and species on earth - gorgeous. I cried a few times while reading. The author's voice was vulnerable, deeply human, and I got the sense that she and her husband got themselves in way deeper than expected, which makes me sympathetic... still, their saviour complexes were hard to look past in the end. They reasoned not to birth a baby into the world to complet The writing was incredibly beautiful, well paced, engaging and I loved the very well-researched interludes about mothering across cultures and species on earth - gorgeous. I cried a few times while reading. The author's voice was vulnerable, deeply human, and I got the sense that she and her husband got themselves in way deeper than expected, which makes me sympathetic... still, their saviour complexes were hard to look past in the end. They reasoned not to birth a baby into the world to completely bypass the ethical dilemmas of it, yet their view on fostering as a way to get themselves a perfect baby didn't seem any more ethically sound to me. Idk though, judging memoirists is too easy. The book was good and quite sad. I think I'll seek out more books on the foster care system.

  26. 4 out of 5

    Lisa

    This book was *intense* and I could not put it down. At times I felt very frustrated with the author, her town, foster services, and humanity in general. It was also fascinating and sad. I'm glad the author shared her story and experience. This book was *intense* and I could not put it down. At times I felt very frustrated with the author, her town, foster services, and humanity in general. It was also fascinating and sad. I'm glad the author shared her story and experience.

  27. 4 out of 5

    Tasha

    An incredibly moving, well written, and unputdownable memoir (a trifecta that doesn’t happen often for me).

  28. 5 out of 5

    Sarah Binning

    This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here. Reading this book as a social worker is both frustrating and difficult. There are many flaws the different agencies made which are absolutely unacceptable that resulted in Sarah’s journey with the child welfare system and Coco’s overall well-being. While this is true, it is also clear that Sarah did not understand the intention of the foster care system when deciding this was her best option for adopting a baby, and this misconception had a large impact on her ability to process and view the sit Reading this book as a social worker is both frustrating and difficult. There are many flaws the different agencies made which are absolutely unacceptable that resulted in Sarah’s journey with the child welfare system and Coco’s overall well-being. While this is true, it is also clear that Sarah did not understand the intention of the foster care system when deciding this was her best option for adopting a baby, and this misconception had a large impact on her ability to process and view the situation objectively. Her personal biases and unwillingness to address her own privilege made this book hard to digest at times. I appreciate the raw emotions presented in this book which offer me a look into the lives of foster parents and I do hope that Sarah and Eric are able to reconnect with Coco one day. The entire story is heartbreaking for all families involved and it also shows the difficult work social workers perform everyday and the fine line we have to balance between doing what we feel is best for the child and honoring the legal rights of the families. I truly hope for the best outcome for all involved, most importantly, for Coco.

  29. 4 out of 5

    Andria

    Full disclosure that I am a foster parent, as I think each reader's experience (or lack thereof) with that system may have an impact on how they interpret this book. Sentilles is a stellar writer, that cannot be denied. My initial impression of this book from its pre-release marketing campaign and extensive press coverage was negative, dismissively concluding that it was yet another in a sea of fostering/adoption memoirs centering the hopeful adoptive parents and their feelings while perspectives Full disclosure that I am a foster parent, as I think each reader's experience (or lack thereof) with that system may have an impact on how they interpret this book. Sentilles is a stellar writer, that cannot be denied. My initial impression of this book from its pre-release marketing campaign and extensive press coverage was negative, dismissively concluding that it was yet another in a sea of fostering/adoption memoirs centering the hopeful adoptive parents and their feelings while perspectives from birth families and the children involved continue to be underrepresented. Reading an excerpt totally changed my mind and lead me to read the full book. Sentilles unfolds the story of how Coco came into her care with perspective and self-reflection. She captures the bigger picture of poverty, addiction, and bureaucracy that is often missing in books on this subject, and even more broadly discusses how human relationships between strangers are reflected in nature, where we fit in that universal image. It's a beautiful and moving picture that revolves around one key idea: "maybe there is no such thing as mine". Perhaps we all belong to each other in some way. And I disagree with reviewers who evaluated Sentilles and her husband as reflexively judgmental. They were, but those passages in context are clearly intended to point out the hypocrisy of their own stated goals. (view spoiler)[For example, she describes one of their fellow foster parents as a racist bigot based on his comments in class. Later in the story we discover that couple has fostered a dozen children while the author and her husband turned down child after child in need until one that met their exhaustive criteria became available. (hide spoiler)] Here, Sentilles isn't a dummy telling on herself without realizing it. She is an intelligent writer who spent half the book (much to my frequent aggravation) reiterating the ways in which her privilege and indecision made her blind to the chaos she was about to cast herself into, to provide contrast with the latter half detailing how she grew from it. It's incredibly touching and well done. And then the epilogue hits! And in my opinion, it undoes everything the second half of the book accomplished. (view spoiler)[This couple goes through so much pain and decide to choose hope anyway, only to pull the rug in the last pages to reassert, just kidding, they actually did deserve the baby because they have the most money and the best resources and most importantly love her the most. I guess there is such a thing as "mine" after all. Unsubstantiated rumors are presented as fact in this section, something the previous sections were careful not to do. There is no self-reflection about how involved they got in the personal lives of the birth parents and their extended family, which to me reads as borderline unhinged behavior even when the author is clearly trying to paint herself in the best light possible, yet another thing that was avoided in the rest of the book. It's a very disorienting shift. She even returns to the reflexively judgment of other foster parents as racist, this time with no follow up. The acknowledgements end on a bitter note: "To the 'child protection' teams in two states: None of this would have happened without you." (Quotation marks not mine.) (hide spoiler)] I mean..... yikes. So in end, I was disappointed to find my feelings came full circle. Sentilles retroactively reveals herself to be a sort of unreliable narrator of her own story (a concept I find fascinating from a literary perspective but that is kind of a bummer as a reader), less accepting and enlightened than she might have the reader believe. And knowing how the rest of the story turned out, all the book's inclusivity, the parallels between Native American "reeducation" efforts and slavery and the present-day child welfare system, seem less like attempts to draw attention to historical wrongs and more like a shield of white feminism the author can hide behind to prove she is a good person in spite of the recklessness with which she entered this endeavor and the entitlement she feels to a particular outcome. It's sad to me that this version of the book is the one that will enter the permanent record. It was so close to being something really thoughtful and special.

  30. 5 out of 5

    Raksha Vasudevan

    Beautiful, wrenching, brilliant. Sentilles takes us through her and her husband's dramatic journey of fostering a child with the hope of adoption. We know from the start that the outcome is not a good one, but Sentilles is such a skillful writer, such a master of narrative, that we hold out hope until the very last page, the very last word. Yet, I never felt manipulated because she is so honest in her longings, in her complicity within a broken system, and in the conflict between her instinct to Beautiful, wrenching, brilliant. Sentilles takes us through her and her husband's dramatic journey of fostering a child with the hope of adoption. We know from the start that the outcome is not a good one, but Sentilles is such a skillful writer, such a master of narrative, that we hold out hope until the very last page, the very last word. Yet, I never felt manipulated because she is so honest in her longings, in her complicity within a broken system, and in the conflict between her instinct to be good and to get what she wants. I almost wish this book was fiction because if it was, maybe I wouldn't be so haunted by it. But perhaps that is the mark of truly great literature, fiction or otherwise - it leaves its mark on you.

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