Book Review: When We Become Ours

Book Review:

When We Become Ours: A YA Adoptee Anthology

Edited by Shannon Gibney and Nicole Chung

reviewed by Katie Wynen


“Representation makes us feel less alone. Representation plus imagination anoints us to fly.”

The closing lines of Rebecca Carroll’s foreword to When We Become Ours: A YA Adoptee Anthology (HarperTeen, 2023) are spot-on. As an adoptee, representation was the first word that came to mind as I began reading and relating to the thoughts and feelings of the characters in these stories. I cried reading several of these stories; felt relief when characters expressed thoughts, feelings and experiences that I shared; felt sad knowing the impact of family separation is lifelong and that young BIPOC adoptees in 2024 are still experiencing what these authors did in the 80s, 90s, 00s; and I felt joy. Joy in knowing that the next generation of adoptees has access to this anthology and its broad, varied and diverse representation of the BIPOC adoptee experience. Joy in thinking of the adoptee who finds this book at their school or local library and escapes into a world where they are not the only Black adoptee in their Kansas farm town. Where they can see themselves and imagine a world where they blend in, and nobody knows they are adopted.

When We Become Ours is an anthology containing 15 stories written by adoptees of color. The authors were adopted both internationally and domestically; many were adopted into white families and raised in predominantly white communities. Two of the stories are written by editors Shannon Gibney and Nicole Chung, eleven are by adoptees who have published novels, memoirs, books for young readers, graphic novels, or essays, and two are by adoptees who are published here for the first time. The genres include fantasy, literary, sci-fi and graphic fiction. There’s a little something for everyone.

The stories that have stuck with me the most are the ones about experiences different from my own. In The Dream Dealer’s Audition, Sun Yung Shin describes the experience of being adopted by parents who were believed to be infertile and then watching them have a child by birth. Mariama J. Lockington’s Cora and Benji’s Great Escape features an adoptee who has a #momfluencer, and while this is not the primary focus of the story, it opened my eyes to the adoptees whose parent(s) have posted their entire life and journey on social media. Each story had its own unique voice and exploration of the adoptee experience.

Many of these stories are inspired by the authors’ own experiences; their voices are bringing representation to the struggle for and importance of identity, belonging, and birth culture for transracial adoptees. We need to hear these voices, as transracial adoptions continue to occur.

The experience that is missing from this anthology is that of a young adoptee navigating an open adoption. There is mention of birth family, birth siblings, and wanting to search, but no story that focuses entirely on this experience. If someone is hoping to find an open adoption experience in these stories, it will not be there. This makes sense to me, as open adoption was not as common when many of these authors were growing up, and many were raised hearing the phrase, “you can search when you are 18.”

This anthology for young adult readers addresses questions about identity, racism, suicide, family, death, belonging, loss, isolation, sex, and sexuality. All topics that can make parents nervous, and all topics that are highly relevant to young adult adoptees. It’s a lot to carry, hold, and think about. This anthology is a valuable resource for adoptees, others in the adoption constellation, and, as Dr. JaeRan Kim says in the afterword, “…anyone interested in expanding their understanding of adoptees.”

I highly recommend When We Become Ours and encourage all readers to ask their local public libraries, independent bookstores, and school libraries to put this anthology on their shelves.

Katie Wynen (she/her), MSW, is a transracial, international Colombian adoptee, with a Masters in Social Work. Katie has worked with members of the adoption triad since 2006. She studied under Dr. Joyce Maguire Pavao in Boston before moving to Oakland and joining the Pact staff in 2012. Katie works in adoption placement, leads the adult adoptee support groups, and provides adoption education nationwide. Katie is an Angels in Adoption 2019 Recipient from the Congressional Coalition on Adoption Institute. 

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