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The Girl I Am, Was, and Never Will Be

A Speculative Memoir of Transracial Adoption

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A Michael L. Printz Award Honor Book

Part memoir, part speculative fiction, this novel explores the often surreal experience of growing up as a mixed-Black transracial adoptee.

Dream Country author Shannon Gibney returns with a new book woven from her true story of growing up as the adopted Black daughter of white parents and the fictional story of Erin Powers, the name Shannon was given at birth by the white woman who gave her up for adoption. 

At its core, the novel is a tale of two girls on two different timelines occasionally bridged by a mysterious portal and their shared search for a complete picture of their origins. Gibney surrounds that story with reproductions of her own adoption documents, letters, family photographs, interviews, medical records, and brief essays on the surreal absurdities of the adoptee experience.

The end result is a remarkable portrait of an American experience rarely depicted in any form.
© Kristine Heykants
Shannon Gibney is an author and university professor. Her novel See No Color, drawn from her life as a transracial adoptee, was hailed by Kirkus as "an exceptionally accomplished debut" and by Publishers Weekly as "an unflinching look at the complexities of racial identity." Her sophomore novel, Dream Country, received five starred reviews and earned her a second Minnesota Book Award. The Girl I Am, Was, and Never Will Be earned a Michael L. Printz Honor. She lives with her two Liberian-American children in Minneapolis, Minnesota. View titles by Shannon Gibney
The literature of adoption is a fictional genre in itself. Adoptees know it to be generally as fantastical as any space opera—­and just as entertaining to the masses.
Every story must begin with the vulnerable but good-­hearted poor birth mother who loves her baby very much but cannot take care of it (the birth father is always conspicuously absent in these narratives). There is a kindly, upper-­middle-­class, usually white couple who desperately wants a child, and have pursued all avenues in order to get one (if the couple is adopting internationally, they are in a rich country in the Global North, and have spent years on various lists, waiting for an available child, many times spending thousands of dollars). They fight, despite all odds, to build their family through adoption, in the process creating a healthy, happy, thriving child who eventually grows into a healthy, happy, thriving adult who has bonded perfectly with their new colorblind family. All this miraculous transformation from a poor, brown, cast-­off orphan. Love conquers all.

Once the birth mother has given up the child, she is no longer part of the story.

Once the child is adopted, there is no talk of loss of first family, culture, language, or community. The adoption is simply a bureaucratic event that happened, and then is over.

Since the birth father was not part of the story from the beginning, he is not part of the adoptee’s story as it progresses.

And if you ask about any of the particularities of this literature of adoption: who is adopting whom, from where to where, what are the racial dynamics of the transaction, the role that money plays, corruption, the trauma of removal, the burden of assimilation, you are branded an angry and maladjusted adoptee.

When most of the literature written about a marginalized group of people comes from white adoptive parents who are psychologists, sociologists, creative writers, and professors who don’t identify themselves as adoptive parents in their “objective” work, what other possible outcome could there be?

This is how I came to understand epistemological violence.

In my body.




  • HONOR | 2024
    Michael L. Printz Honor Book
A Booklist 2023 Editor's Choice
A Kirkus Reviews Best Book of the Year


★ "An ambitiously authentic adoption story where fiction does the work of truth, and archives, correspondence, and health records provide the roots of fantasy."—Kirkus Reviews, starred review

★ "A fantastical, transcendent memory collage that shirks convention in search of what is real and true about familial bonds."—PW, starred review

★ "Readers will praise the raw honesty and insight in this lovingly crafted memoir."—Booklist, starred review

"An authentic journey for adoptees who are not allowed to feel sad but thrust into a stance of gratitude for a life they were given and for all readers who, after a loss, are reconstructing their identities."—SLJ

"This deeply felt and unusually creative book is recommended for readers aged fourteen to adult, and will be an especially important resource for people of all ages with a connection to transracial adoption. The final section of the book, a group text thread including the author and other writers with this background, resonates with the solace of shared experience."—Minneapolis Star Tribune

"Gibney captures such interior and intimate adoptee feelings. It's so rare to see it evoked on the page. Breathtakingly beautiful."—Kimberly McKee, PhD, author of Disrupting Kinship: Transnational Politics of Korean Adoption in the United States

About

A Michael L. Printz Award Honor Book

Part memoir, part speculative fiction, this novel explores the often surreal experience of growing up as a mixed-Black transracial adoptee.

Dream Country author Shannon Gibney returns with a new book woven from her true story of growing up as the adopted Black daughter of white parents and the fictional story of Erin Powers, the name Shannon was given at birth by the white woman who gave her up for adoption. 

At its core, the novel is a tale of two girls on two different timelines occasionally bridged by a mysterious portal and their shared search for a complete picture of their origins. Gibney surrounds that story with reproductions of her own adoption documents, letters, family photographs, interviews, medical records, and brief essays on the surreal absurdities of the adoptee experience.

The end result is a remarkable portrait of an American experience rarely depicted in any form.

Author

© Kristine Heykants
Shannon Gibney is an author and university professor. Her novel See No Color, drawn from her life as a transracial adoptee, was hailed by Kirkus as "an exceptionally accomplished debut" and by Publishers Weekly as "an unflinching look at the complexities of racial identity." Her sophomore novel, Dream Country, received five starred reviews and earned her a second Minnesota Book Award. The Girl I Am, Was, and Never Will Be earned a Michael L. Printz Honor. She lives with her two Liberian-American children in Minneapolis, Minnesota. View titles by Shannon Gibney

Excerpt

The literature of adoption is a fictional genre in itself. Adoptees know it to be generally as fantastical as any space opera—­and just as entertaining to the masses.
Every story must begin with the vulnerable but good-­hearted poor birth mother who loves her baby very much but cannot take care of it (the birth father is always conspicuously absent in these narratives). There is a kindly, upper-­middle-­class, usually white couple who desperately wants a child, and have pursued all avenues in order to get one (if the couple is adopting internationally, they are in a rich country in the Global North, and have spent years on various lists, waiting for an available child, many times spending thousands of dollars). They fight, despite all odds, to build their family through adoption, in the process creating a healthy, happy, thriving child who eventually grows into a healthy, happy, thriving adult who has bonded perfectly with their new colorblind family. All this miraculous transformation from a poor, brown, cast-­off orphan. Love conquers all.

Once the birth mother has given up the child, she is no longer part of the story.

Once the child is adopted, there is no talk of loss of first family, culture, language, or community. The adoption is simply a bureaucratic event that happened, and then is over.

Since the birth father was not part of the story from the beginning, he is not part of the adoptee’s story as it progresses.

And if you ask about any of the particularities of this literature of adoption: who is adopting whom, from where to where, what are the racial dynamics of the transaction, the role that money plays, corruption, the trauma of removal, the burden of assimilation, you are branded an angry and maladjusted adoptee.

When most of the literature written about a marginalized group of people comes from white adoptive parents who are psychologists, sociologists, creative writers, and professors who don’t identify themselves as adoptive parents in their “objective” work, what other possible outcome could there be?

This is how I came to understand epistemological violence.

In my body.




Awards

  • HONOR | 2024
    Michael L. Printz Honor Book

Praise

A Booklist 2023 Editor's Choice
A Kirkus Reviews Best Book of the Year


★ "An ambitiously authentic adoption story where fiction does the work of truth, and archives, correspondence, and health records provide the roots of fantasy."—Kirkus Reviews, starred review

★ "A fantastical, transcendent memory collage that shirks convention in search of what is real and true about familial bonds."—PW, starred review

★ "Readers will praise the raw honesty and insight in this lovingly crafted memoir."—Booklist, starred review

"An authentic journey for adoptees who are not allowed to feel sad but thrust into a stance of gratitude for a life they were given and for all readers who, after a loss, are reconstructing their identities."—SLJ

"This deeply felt and unusually creative book is recommended for readers aged fourteen to adult, and will be an especially important resource for people of all ages with a connection to transracial adoption. The final section of the book, a group text thread including the author and other writers with this background, resonates with the solace of shared experience."—Minneapolis Star Tribune

"Gibney captures such interior and intimate adoptee feelings. It's so rare to see it evoked on the page. Breathtakingly beautiful."—Kimberly McKee, PhD, author of Disrupting Kinship: Transnational Politics of Korean Adoption in the United States

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