This is the sequel to The Bean Trees, which is about a white woman who has an abused Native American child given to her in a parking lot by a stranger, and she decides to adopt her. This is the story of what happens next.
In reading The Bean Trees, I learnt about the existence of the Indian Child Welfare Act that was passed in 1978 in order to remedy the problem of American social workers allowing many Indian children to be adopted by non-Indian families. This book lays out many of the reasons why this was considered necessary.
I know very little about tribal Indian life but this book suggests that it is a very family-oriented culture. The white family in this story, by contrast, is close but small. Kingsolver uses this example, full of grey areas, to illustrate why racial identity is important to minority groups. One of the characters likens what the Native Americans went through to a holocaust, and I am inclined to agree.
The child in this story is with a loving and safe family, and she was being physically and sexually abused in her home before being abandoned to our protagonist. So, in this example, I think going against this Act was for the good of the child. I am not convinced by Kingsolver’s arguments about the importance of heritage and blood family when the health of the child is at stake. I suppose that would be my problem with the Act in general, any positive discrimination based purely on race can only throw up many situations with grey areas such as this.
I think this was very early Kingsolver, and it shows. There are some characters that get fairly well-developed that are just left behind, and there is one very big and slightly annoying coincidence. Oh, and don’t get me started on the ending… Still, it is a very interesting subject with no obvious answer – typical Barbara Kingsolver, which is one of the many reasons why I love her so much.