The joys, pains and ever-shifting dynamics of family life prove fertile ground, once again, for Cynthia Kadohata. In her new, quietly powerful novel, which publishes Sept. 2, she focuses not on the Japanese American families of “Kira-Kira” (Newbery Medal, 2005) and “The Thing About Luck” (National Book Award, 2013) but on the fragile triad of a boy named Jaden and his adoptive parents. Jaden’s past has left him emotionally numb, cut off from himself and others. His biological mother brought him, howling with grief and fear, to an orphanage in Romania at age 4, and he was adopted and taken to the United States at 8, weighing only 38 pounds. As the story opens, Jaden, now 12, considers himself “broken,” nothing but a troubled, older adopted child, as he’s been labeled by psychologists trying to modify his hoarding, stealing and fire-setting. Initially, the boy sees his parents’ desire to adopt another child as confirmation that he’s unwanted. As the threesome travels to Kazakhstan, though, and spends the orphanage-mandated weeks bonding with a “blank-faced baby,” Jaden begins to recall his earlier experiences and loneliness. He realizes he is the only one who truly understands this withdrawn, tiny person, and he begins to reach out to the baby and to another orphan. Jaden’s journey back to his lost self is believably fraught, but flashes of humor lighten the whole. An especially lively voice is that of the family’s Turkish driver as he opines on large suitcases, granola and the true beauty of camels.
Jacqueline Woodson and Cynthia Kadohata will be at the National Book Festival at the Walter E. Washington Convention Center on Aug. 30.
By Cynthia Kadohata