The Red Thread by Ann Hood

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The Red Thread by Ann Hood

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Category: Women's Fiction
Rating: 5/5
Reviewer: Zoe Morris
Reviewed by Zoe Morris
Summary: An exceptional book, well written and beautifully crafted, that looks at how adopting from China can tug the heartstrings of parents on both sides.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 320 Date: October 2011
Publisher: WW Norton & Co
External links: Author's website
ISBN: 978-0393339765

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The Red Thread Adoption Agency has been successfully placing abandoned Chinese girls with loving American families, desperate for children, for many years when we join them. Named for the mythical Chinese belief that people who are destined to be together are connected by an invisible red thread, an immense amount of work goes in from both countries to make the process as smooth and straightforward as possible, and to ensure the matches are, if not magical, then at least perfect. Maya, the agency’s owner, knows all the children she has placed and spends a great deal of time with the prospective parents before they come anywhere near their potential daughters.

This is Maya’s story, but she’s not the only one in the spotlight, as we also follow a handful of her clients through the application and placement process. By far my favourite part, however, was the birth mothers’ stories that are scattered throughout. The reasons for giving up their children are all very different, but the pain they clearly feel in doing so is very much the same. These are not women who are brusquely or callously handing over their children, and their heartbreak cannot be denied. Perhaps one of the saddest parts is that they never get a happy ending. The children and their adoptive parents move on to new lives full of joy and laughter, but for the birth mothers there is no closure, no way of ever knowing what has become of the precious packages they so reluctantly relinquished control of.

Even with the tears this book brought (and it brought A Lot) it was an uplifting story that had me mesmerised from the start. It’s not a mystery you have to unravel or try to predict, it’s a straightforward story towards a goal that is defined from the start, but it’s at least as enjoyable, if not more so, than any story where you don’t know what’s coming up on the next page. You can try to guess which child will end up with which family, though I didn’t try and just went back at the end to nod and say ‘’yes, I can see why they are a good match’’.

I’ve not read any of Hood’s books before, but it was plain to see why she is a bestselling author in the States with her charming style and pitched to appeal to as much of the market as possible. The writing is slick, the structure smooth, and the pace just right. This is a book that is real without being gritty, sweet without being saccharine. Maya is remarkably matter of fact which suits her role at the agency, managing to maintain professionalism even when her past makes it difficult to move on personally. I also liked her friend Emily, the formidable Nell and angst-ridden Susannah, while the wet-fish Sophie and boring Brooke helped balance things out and make it all a bit more real, since you rarely find a group where absolutely every character is full on and brimming with personality. I thought it was fitting that Charlie, normally centre stage, was just a small fish in a big pond when it came to adoption, with his background neither a help nor a hindrance.

This book draws on the author’s own experiences of adopting a child from China, and clearly the process and outcome were both extremely positive if perhaps not entirely stress-free. Though a fictionalised account of her experiences and those of her group and the birth mothers, it could just as easily be a diary of those long months that stretched on forever, and I thought it gave great insight into the ups and downs of the process, if perhaps simplifying it slightly, or skimming over things like the home visits and bureaucratic paperwork.

The families seem quite similar in some ways, and though the story rotates around to show different points of view, the men especially can all seem to blur into one at times. There is little said about the cost of the process, though a quick peek at the website of the agency the author herself used confirms it’s far from cheap. This might explain the similarity in the couples who would need to be well off and reasonably well educated to be able to afford, and navigate, the prolonged process, and who all had particular reasons for wanting to adopt rather than conceive.

I gobbled this book up in less than a day, hypnotised by the lyrical prose and captivated by the families on both sides of the ocean. It was a fresh, realistic story that I relished to the end, and I really, really hope she will consider writing a 5-years-post-adoption follow up so I can revisit the characters. This could not come more highly recommended, but don’t blame me if by the end the only thing you want to do is jump on a plane to China and adopt a houseful of girls of your own.

Many thanks go to the publishers for supplying this book.

Adoption seems quite an in thing when it comes to modern writing, and we’ve a few to recommend, but why not start with Return to Sender by Zoe Barnes, The Battle for Christabel by Margaret Forster or the non-fiction The Mistress's Daughter by A M Homes while The Castaways by Elin Hilderbrand and Every Last One by Anna Quindlen cover quite different topics but also come from two of my new favourite, current American novelists, whose ranks Ann Hood will be joining immediately.

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