Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Adoption Reading Challenge - Book 1

 This is the first book that I have finished for the Adoption Reading Challenge that Jenna is hosting at The Chronicles of Munchkinland.  Be sure to follow the link through to read other people's book reviews.

 The Girls of Huntington House

I stumbled across this book by accident while I was going through a box of my stuff that was stored at my parent’s house. I don’t remember reading it as a teenager, but I may have since I was always on the lookout for adoption related books to help me process my own feelings on being adopted.

The book is written from the perspective of an English teacher who goes to work at a maternity home for the first time. The book was written in 1972 so it’s somewhat outdated but that does not detract from the content. It was also made into a movie in 1973, staring Shirley Jones as the teacher and Sissy Spacek as the main pregnant girl character.

Teacher Ann Baldwin starts her job at the maternity home expecting to teach English just like she would to any other class. What she didn’t count on was the emotions of her students getting in the way. When she can’t seem to get through to her students, she tries to find the right book to engage them with. Somehow she thinks that The Scarlett Letter will be the one, since they have something in common with the character of the book!

The topic of adoption is not front and center in The Girls of Huntington House, but more of an underlying assumption of what is going to happen. There are some girls, like Baby, who at 13 has made a deal with her own mother. Her mother will raise the baby and Baby will get a puppy of her very own. The main character, Sarah spends the whole book talking about how she is going to raise her daughter Heather in the woods, swimming in lakes, eating from the fields and living free (remember, it was written in 1972, so it’s based on events in the ‘60s and has a decided Hippy feel to it). This attitude/plan drives the teacher crazy, as she does not see how this is possible or practical. She and Sarah butt heads throughout. However as the semester and the pregnancies progress, the teacher’s views slowly shift. She goes from seeing teen pregnancy as something to be dealt with and set aside with as little emotion as possible to coming to the understanding that these are real babies and real women who are going to be affected by their decision for the rest of their lives. At the same time Sarah is feeling pressured to give the baby up for adoption by her parents and is about to do just that. In the end the teacher comes to her aide and encourages Sarah to keep Heather and raise her with her boyfriend, much to the dismay of Sarah’s parents and the owner of the maternity home.

I liked the book. I thought that it handled the feelings and dilemmas of the girls well, giving depth to the characters. I became very invested in the teacher’s emotional growth throughout the book as she realized that life could not be compartmentalized and kept free of emotion. I’m hoping to read Ann Fessler’s The Girls Who Went Away to see how this story compares. The Girls of Huntington House is based on the memories of the author from a year she spent teaching at a maternity homes and she states at the beginning of the book “All the characters are composites. What remains unalterable, and unaltered, are the verities of the human heart.” I don't know if this falls into the fiction or non-fiction category, but I would recommend it to all.  I'm now on the hunt for a copy of the movie to watch.
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