I rarely read the dedications of picture books. Before I read a book, I'm usually in too big of a hurry to get to the good stuff, and afterwards I'm either excited to share the book or eager to be rid of it.
In this case, for some reason, I did. And I'm quite glad, because I think the dedication set the tone for the entire work. Dom and Keunhee Lee, the illustrators of Lawrence McKay Jr.'s book Journey Home, dedicated their work "to the people who have two homelands". This speaks to the desire on both the author's and the illustrators' parts to honor the experience of international adoptees as well as multiracial individuals.
And honor this experience they do, with a tale that captures the emotional and psychological process involved in searching for birth family as well as identity. Mai's mother Lin was adopted from Vietnam when she was just a baby. Lin doesn't know anything about her family -- "her past is like a puzzle", Mai explains -- but she longs to reconnect. So Mai and Lin decide to journey back, to see what parts of the puzzle they can bring together. Finding answers isn't easy. There are a lot of closed doors and dead ends, and at times Mai's mother seems to feel more lost than ever. But finally, finally, they find a connection, and the picture Lin has so often longed to see begins to fill in at last.
This is a powerful story not only of an adoptee's desire to find her first family, but also to return to a homeland whose roots are deep within her heart. McKay relates in unsparing prose the longing that Lin feels, to know more about herself and her birthplace. And he connects Lin's journey to that of her daughter Mai, who was born in America but never knew her father. In Vietnam, Mai finally has the experience of fitting in, since everyone else looks just like her. And Mai feels a connection to her mother's birthplace. As she puts it "I think home must be inside me and all around me too."
Journey Home is a gorgeously illustrated portrait of the adoption journey that would be an excellent tool for sharing with older children. There's a lot of food for thought here, and be aware that the frankness with which McKay tells Lin's story may prompt questions from adoptees about their own history. If you don't want to answer hard questions, then you'd better pass this one by. But if you feel, as we do, that it's most important to be completely honest with your children about their story, this is the kind of book that can facilitate open communication.
For another perspective on Journey Home, check out The Asian Reporter's review. For a classroom guide, check out Lee & Low's website.
Journey Home by Lawrence McKay Jr., published by Lee & Low
Ages 7 up