Review of Shadow Baby, by Alison McGhee

Shadow Baby (2000) is a novel by Alison McGhee. Although the main character,  11-year-old Clara, is not an adoptee, she struggles with many issues actual adopted people might face. Clara views everything and everyone in the world uniquely because she has missing family members: a biological father, a maternal widower grandfather who lives reclusively up north, and a ghostly twin sister for whom she mourns. She searches for validation from her functional but traumatized mother, which isn’t happening, but instead, she finds acceptance and a beautiful friendship with an elderly community member after asking him for help with a school research report.

Clara’s quest for truth, no matter how difficult it is, becomes another theme many adopted people can relate with if they have ever wondered about or searched for the family members they’ve never met or but feel a calling to seek out. (This story takes place before using a home DNA kit would have been an option.)

This story is told from the point of view of the quirky, curious and intelligent young girl who struggles at school to fit in, dodges bullies who hover by junior high lockers, loves historical tales and strives to find consistency and sense in her world of information gaps. Young Clara fantasizes about what her long-lost grandfather, father, and sibling must behave like and look like. In her head, she blends her well-researched knowledge of actual history with her active imagination to create vivid and impressive characters and presumed events. As truths are divulged, she must come to terms with make-believe and reality.

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