I loved this book. It was written for teens, but this coming of age story is great for adults too.
It is about a foundling who was named Muir (Muiriel) after the hospital she was left in as a baby. She grows into the name, becoming an outdoor enthusiast, since it is the one place she feels “at home,” after being passed through the foster system for 17 years. In that time she had 20 placements, and this book is about her last one before she ages out.
She’s learned how to not get attached, but this year, on a small island outside of Seattle will prove to be different. She finds friendship and love for the first time and it thaws her bristly, defensive exterior.
There are creative flashbacks to the bits of stuff she has carried with her in her one suitcase. Each thimble or price tag or key has a story. Her caseworker, who is her only continuous relationship, gave her a copy of John Muir’s writings at age eight, and this turns out to be formative.
Into the story the author weaves in not only info about the foster care system and the unique perspective garnered by one individual within it, but of John Muir, the distinction between preservation and conservation, the Japanese internment camps, and all sorts of miscellany, including contraceptives and racism. These types of books did not exist when I was a teen, but are such a feast for developing minds.
Here are the bits I flagged to give you the flavor of this fresh writing:
- ” I am one of a half million kids in foster care in America, one of twenty-five thousand who will age out…”
- “The entire… point of being born is that someone is supposed to take care of you.”
- “Different isn’t necessarily broken…”
- “You need to separate the nobility of your cause from the misguided means of pursuing it.”
- “Adoption is… an event that happens, it is not who you are. As an adjective it implies inherent bullshit about a person that isn’t true. A person is not ‘adopted.’ They were adopted. Words matter.
- “My favorite books when I was little were a series of seven that I now understand are actually a romanticized celebration of white people barging into the homelands of indigenous people, participating in their genocide, and stealing the land for themselves, but which, as a little white kid with no parents, I knew only as cozy stories about an adventurous pioneer home life– Laura Ingalls Wilder’s Little House on the Prairie. Here was a loving family that moved every year or so, again and again, just like me… They were searching for a home.”
- This teacher, as the seasons changed, was not really into holiday celebrations but was obsessed with examining axle tilt… I loved this intensely. Winter holidays are different in every foster home, but axle tilt. That is magic we all live beneath, whether we feel like it or not.”
- “You can’t see the paradigm if you’re in it.”
Anyway, I thought the core characters here were all wonderful and memorable. Even though some of the minor characters were a bit more one dimensional, they worked just fine as a foil to move the story along.
This story is uplifting, ending on a hopeful note, and bending strongly towards progress. It makes one’s heart yearn for the same for all the other half million kids in foster care.
I give What I Carry five stars. Maybe you or someone you love should read it. I am sure glad I did, even though I stayed up too late finishing it!
Thanks for this excellent review It always help to know what is worth reading.
I’ve always found young adult lit compelling. I highly doubt most people (including me) have any idea the # of children in foster care. A woman in our church, who provided foster care for many years and for many children, adopted two little girls who came to her. Those little girls are thriving– one in college and one at Principia Lower School. If you ever want a light TV series, “Heartland” on Netflix is about a Canadian ranch family who accept problem children in the system. Very heart-warming series, gorgeous Alberta landscape, and unforgettable character in Jack.
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