Monday, May 12, 2008

You're not my real mom, or One Last Wish: Mother, Help Me Live

It was with great trepidation that I began rereading One Last Wish: Mother, Help Me Live (published 1992), but we'll get into that in a bit. For now, let me tell you guys what it's about:
You don't know me, but I know about you... I can't make you live longer, I can't stop you from hurting. But I can give you one wish, as someone did for me.

When the doctors explain to Sarah MacGreggor and her parents that she will need a bone marrow transplant to live, she is distraught. Then Sarah learns that her family cannot be donors because they are not blood relatives. Sarah is furious that her parents never told her she was adopted.

Even as Sarah faces the devastating news, she is granted one last hope - the anonymous letter she receives allows her an incredible opportunity. She can search for her birth mother, who gave her up fifteen years ago. Now, when Sarah needs this woman for her very survival, what will she discover?

The copy I read looks like this:
This cover doesn't really even make any sense, like circumstances led to an open door but with Sarah facing away...? I don't get it. Whatever, our heroine looks appropriately sad but strong, and of course the evil biological mother's got a raging case of bitchface. Bio!Mom lives in Santa Monica, so I can't say I disagree with this portrayal of a Westsider. No offense, Westside. I'm just saying, this cover sums up every time I try to go over there to socialize. Me: sad, silent, hand over heart. Them: bitchface.

Of course there's a new edition, because if there's anything Lurlene's publishers are, it's SUPER INTO NEW EDITIONS. This isn't to be confused with SUPER INTO NEW EDITION which would look more like this:

Nope, Lurlene's people requisitioned something that looks more like this:

Um, is Sarah's biological mother DOLLY PARTON? Oh man, I would totally read that book. I would LIVE that book. (Except for the leukemia.)

Okay, people, so here's the deal. This is sort of a subject near and dear my heart, not because I or anyone I know needs a bone marrow transplant, but because my brother is adopted. So adoption is this totally normal NON-DRAMA thing in my family, and has been ever since I was very little and found out my parents were trying to adopt.

I still totally remember this episode of Family Ties where Skippy finds out he's adopted, and I was totes horrified that any parent would keep it secret from their kid for so long!Also I remember that my mom, who helped out in my brother's first grade classroom, shared with the teacher on the anniversary of my brother's adoption because back then we celebrated it as sort of a second birthday, and she was all I DON'T THINK YOU WANT TO MENTION THAT REALLY DO YOU SUCH A SECRET PRIVATE THING like they wanted to do satanic rituals in our Catholic grade school or something, and my mom was just all "uhhh, why wouldn't we be okay sharing this?"

Wow, are those seriously my only two points of reference? My own life and FAMILY frigging TIES?

Anyways, obviously, those events both occurred quite a long time ago, and things are pretty different now. Thanks, celebrities, for adopting all those kids! Now it's totes not seen as weird. Good for you!

(I'm not kidding, guys. I just read really sarcastic, I'm aware.)

Anyways, wasn't I recapping a book? Wouldn't you guys rather first watch the Family Ties theme? I thought so.

So the book. We open all HEAVY EXPOSITION with Sarah and her mom, who are all IT'S STARTING AGAIN ISN'T IT YES INDEED as Sarah's hair is falling out, so clearly that remission didn't take and she's back in chemo land. Damn, sorry Sarah.

Sarah lives in a small town in Georgia, so she has to be three hundred miles away in a big Memphis hospital. Wow, just yesterday I started planning a trip to Memphis for next year! Serendipity! This sucks for Sarah because her entire family can't be there the whole time. Her dad will be up soon, and her mom brings up the mystical magical story of Sarah's birth, which is that they tried SO HARD and SO LONG for a baby until she came along (then Tina two years later and Richie - wait, Richie?? - nine years after that).

Okay, I read the synopsis, so I know Sarah's mom is totes lying, which, ugh to start with. But to make up some elaborate tale on top of that? Couldn't she have just, ya know, not talked about it much? Less of a real lie than just not sharing one hundred percent of the truth? It's not like I know anyone who was all dying to know about the circumstances of THEIR CONCEPTION anyway. Not me, friends, not me.

That weekend, the whole fam visits. Richie is four and adorable. Tina is thirteen and A TOTAL WENCH. She's all YOU SURE GOT A LOT OF FLOWERS and [the room] DOESN'T LOOK TOO AWFUL TO ME like, dude, Tina, what the fuck is wrong with you, YOUR SISTER HAS FRIGGING LEUKEMIA. Tina is also envious of all the teen magazines (!) Sarah has. God, I hate Tina. I am on page five and already I hate everyone in this family except Sarah and Richie. And, sorry to spoil you guys, but Sarah won't remain on my good list for long.

The doctors talk to Sarah and her parents about her progress. Sarah's doing okay, but what would really help is, of course, a bone marrow transplant. Her parents are all WELL I DON'T KNOW ABOUT THAT ALSO DON'T TEST US OR OUR KIDS FOR COMPATIBILITY I THINK SARAH'S ACTUALLY FINE and Sarah's all, the hell?

After this, Sarah's parents reveal their big lie:
Her father stepped forward and took her hand. "Baby, there's no need for Tina or Richie to be typed for compatibility. They're not going to match you."

Sarah stared at then, confused and dumbfounded. "How can you be sure? They're my sister and brother."

Her mother shook her head. Tears trickled down her cheeks. "No, Sarah, they're not. [OMG WTF SHUT UP SHUT UP ACTUALLY THE CORRECT ANSWER IS "actually, Sarah, they're not your biological siblings"] When you were three days old, we adopted you."
Understandably, Sarah freaks the fuck out. Here's the short version of the story: they couldn't conceive, so they adopted her, then they ended up conceiving Tina (and then Richie) later on. That's actually super common.

Sarah seems less upset about the lying than being adopted, is all I AM NOT RELATED TO ANY OF YOU I AM JUST A LEGAL TRANSACTION I DON'T BELONG TO ANYONE WOE IS MEEEE and just SHUT UP SARAH. Lying is awful, and your parents really, really fucked up. That said, adoption is not some crappy inferior way to end up in a family, and it doesn't make you any less related to the people who adopted you. Great, now I hate you too.

Sarah wants time alone, and stares in the mirror:
She was seeing "eyes of such a pale, clear shade of blue as to resemble light streaming through a window." Scott Michaels had described them that way when she'd been eleven, and it had made her blush.
NO HE DIDN'T. I do not believe any eleven-year-old has ever uttered such a phrase. WAY TO CAPTURE THE REALISM OF TWEEN CONVERSATION LURLENE.

Soon, of course, Sarah gets THE LETTER. If this is your first OLW recap, head back here to read the full text. She keeps it secret, of course, like this is the way most people would react. Actually, guys, once this is posted, I'm going to create this week's poll, and that's what I'm going to find out. So if you read this on an RSS feed, be sure to actually come to the site.

Sarah goes home from the hospital but is still all whiny and emo about her sitch. No, not the cancer, not the lying, but the BEING ADOPTED. Shut up, Sarah. Her neighbor Scott of the AS TO RESEMBLE LIGHT STREAMING THROUGH A WINDOW Scott does visit, but she doesn't tell him about the adoption stuff, because she is ASHAMED. But after a blowup with heinous Tina where Sarah's all DON'T WORRY WE'RE NOT EVEN RELATED (which is rude and wrong uggghhhh I hate Sarah, though at least this time she also chastises her parents for the lying), she ends up telling Scott everything.

Despite that dumbass thing about blue eyes, Scott is pretty smart, because he has a friend who is adopted, and is super fine with it! Also he is quick to correct Sarah on saying shit like "real mom" when, duh, her REAL MOM is the one who raised her, and her biological mother is the one who gave birth to her. Thanks for that terminology lesson, Scott, that wenchface Sarah really needed it.

Sarah realizes, while talking to Scott, that she could FIND her biological mother, and maybe biological siblings, and then she'd have a great shot at the bone marrow transplant. This is actually not a bad idea! Scott says it would cost lots of money (I dunno, would it?) but that's fine because Sarah's got the OLW money.

So Sarah goes to her parents, and they sit her down to lecture her on the assface she's been lately. She also comes clean about the letter and says she wants to search for her biological mother. Sarah's mom keeps trying to guilt trip her, all THINK OF ALL THE WONDERFUL THINGS YOU CAN DO FOR YOUR FAMILY WITH THAT MONEY like, uh, Sarah's mom, I know your daughter is a wench and I know you are also a lying wench, but, uh, think about this. Do you want Sarah to live? Then face the fact that maybe this is necessary. ARGH. My parents were always nothing but supportive, telling my brother that once he was eighteen if he wanted any help finding biological family they would be there. They aren't lying jackholes though to be fair.

Sarah's mom does admit she's curious:
"I wanted a baby so badly, and well, if you must know, she didn't want hers at all. I couldn't imagine such a thing."
Seems an awful lot like talking smack about someone who made a REALLY TOUGH DECISION that, uh, resulted in you GETTING A BABY. Way to be all OH MY I COULDN'T IMAGINE! I know lots of women that give up their babies really really WANT THEM but can't for some reason or another. Or, you know, they're not ready to be moms. Or whatever else. GodDAMN I hate you, Sarah's mom. Judgey McBitchPants.

Sarah hires a private investigator who tracks down Sarah's biological mother.
Sarah read further, "...being the mother of a female child named (Baby Girl) Warren..." She stopped reading. Was that all Sarah had been to her--Baby Girl Warren? Hadn't Janelle even bothered to give her baby a name? [Uh, Sarah, she gave you up for adoption, why would she be thinking of freaking NAMING YOU?] Sarah's vision blurred, but she continued to read, "...and having sole right to custody and control of said child, said child having been born out of wedlock..."

Sarah winced. Of course, she'd known for some time that her natural mother and father had never married, but seeing the words in black and white cut through her like a knife.
WHY? I haven't thought having kids when you weren't married was sinful since I quit Catholic school. ARGH. This family is so fucking judgmental.

The private investigator reveals he does this work because he too was adopted and had a happy reunion with his biological family. He still likes his adopted family, though, he reveals that HE EVEN KEPT THEIR NAME. WTF! It's your fucking name too, you asshole. You don't give that up if you make a happy reunion with your biological family. GodDAMN Lurlene, did you talk to anyone who was ACTUALLY adopted?

The investigator tracks down Sarah's biological mother in a beach community near L.A. I am assuming it's supposed to be Santa Monica. Sarah, her mother, and the private eye all go together to confront her or whatever. This plan is stupid, but Sarah thinks while her biological mother could ignore a letter or phone call, she won't be able to refuse her in person. Maybe. I still hate everything about this plan. Also this book.

Janelle Warren lives modestly in a small house with two cats and a parrot. Holy crap, wouldn't the parrot try to eat the cats? Or vice versa? You guys, I am so scared of parrots I can't even tell you. Sarah wants to see Janelle before confronting her, so they stalk her to her usual restaurant where she meets up with her politics boyfriend. Sarah's all dazzled because Janelle's in designer clothes whereas everyone back home looks crappy all the time. Listen, I don't want to be all I KNOW WHAT YOU MEAN SARAH but whenever I go back to my small hometown to visit, I'm often struck with these UH YOU SERIOUSLY LEFT THE HOUSE THAT WAY?? thoughts, and when my brother came out here to visit, he was laughing at how everyone looked, in his words, ready to go to a club at any moment. Maybe my brother and I are just jerks, though. It's possible.

So Sarah, her mom, and the P.I. go to Janelle's house, though Sarah goes alone to the door. Janelle's all GO AWAY! as soon as she realizes who Sarah is. Sarah cries in the car and is all BOO HOO MY REAL MOTHER DOESN'T WANT ME, and luckily her mom is all OH HELL NO I AM YOUR REAL MOM WHO SAT WITH YOU THROUGH CHEMO AND RAISED YOU AND ALL THAT OTHER STUFF and FINALLY Sarah gets it through her thick head. All three of them go to the door to confront Janelle, and explain why Sarah is there. Janelle is all YOU KNOW I COULD HAVE HAD AN ABORTION IT WAS LEGAL AND IT DOESN'T SHOW ON A WOMAN'S BODY LIKE PREGNANCY DOES and I am not even sure what the hell she's talking about. Is she wanting a thank you from Sarah? Is this some sort of slam against abortion? I DON'T EVEN KNOW. Janelle's a douchebag too.

Anyways, Janelle says she can't help with the bone marrow transplant, and that Sarah's biological father doesn't have kids either. All right then! Sarah makes this beautiful observation:
Janelle turned and walked to a large picture window and toyed with the drapery cord. The curtains were already shut, just like Janelle Warren's heart, Sarah thought.
Sarah's mom leaves their hotel info with Janelle, and they go. Janelle shows up to explain. She lets Sarah know that she thought it better her baby go to a loving home with two parents, not one. Her boyfriend, Sarah's biological father, actually died before Sarah was born. Janelle didn't want to tell her parents about the pregnancy, because they had such pride in her.
"In those days, there was a certain amount of shame in being an unwed mother. Women didn't wear illegitimate pregnancies like badges of pride as they do today."
Uhhh I hate you, Janelle. Also, I find this totally hard to believe from this character. Firstly, she lives in the L.A. area, which is a blue city in a blue county in a blue state. Secondly, she herself went through an--I really hate using this term--illegitimate pregnancy herself. Wouldn't she think it BETTER for women to go through less shame? ARGH. I hate these people.

Janelle also reveals that her bone marrow is unusable because she had breast cancer. Damn! They at least have a nice goodbye.

Back at home, Tina has organized a bone marrow donor drive! Go Tina! Sarah realizes she obviously DID have a REAL family all along. Good lesson learned, Sarah. I still think all of you are heinous, though.


Meg said...

Oh. My. God. I read this book when I was about 11 or 12 (I think it was my first foray into the Lurleneverse), and even then I wondered why the hell Sarah's parents wouldn't tell her she was adopted. I know several people who are adopted (including two of my cousins), and they've always known about it. That seems so cruel not to tell them, and then to lie on top it? Jerks.

And since when is teen pregnancy a "badge of honor"? Last I checked, teen pregnancy wasn't something to brag about...there's still a ton of stigma associated with it, but now girls don't "go away for a little while."

I think I hate every character in this book too except Streaming Through a Window Boy. Why are both moms such cold bitches? Why is Janelle like "Oh I could have had an abortion"? I'm with you - what's that even mean? And the idea that's presented in this book that there's only one good type of family is pretty awful.

Wow, sorry for the novel. I just didn't realize that my 11-year-old self was digesting trite crap like this until now. Shame shame, Lurlene.

Anonymous said...

Ditto to you. Even when I was 9 and obsessed with all things Lurlene and cancer, I couldn't understand why Sarah was such a brat to her mom and couldn't grasp that biological mom does NOT equal real mom.

I liked Richie a lot. Hated the rest. Sarah popped back in Reach for Tomorrow, I think, and all I kept doing was praying for her to find some character.

Meg said...

Oh, I just realized that she said "illegitimate pregnancies" (I hate that term too) are badges of pride now, not teen pregnancies. Still though, ugh. God forbid there be different types of families.

This book managed to bug me even more than the one with the woman who vowed to stay home with her children because working moms are bad moms! I didn't think that was possible. :)

Anonymous said...

Amen to both of you. Adding to Meghan's comments ('cause she's my sister!):
Our extended family are (to put it gently) NOT the most progressive of individuals. However, my two cousins' adoption was never a big issue. Not only did they always know about it, so did everyone else in the family...and it wasn't a big deal (other than, "yay! more kids/grandkids!"). Like the family in the book, that family had two other kids later, and again, there were no lies/exclusions/issues. Last year, one of my cousins (who was 20 at the time) met his biological mom (who from what I hear was--gasp!--a very nice person) and it wasn't a question of "she's my REAL mom" or anything ridiculous like that.

Re: teen pregnancies--I love the movie Juno (despite all the backlash) because I think it deals with the situation very realistically. Juno's pregnancy is never portrayed as ideal or something to aspire to--she deals with it the best way she knows how, but it's not a "badge of honor" by any means.

I think the most telling scene is when she cries after having the baby--even after knowing the whole time that she was going to give it up for adoption, and never considering keeping it. Hear that, Lurlene? An unexpected pregnancy's still a difficult thing--NOT a badge of honor!!!! Ridiculous.

Dana said...

I swear they made this into a Lifetime movie years ago but I can't find it on the net

Dana said...

Just an FYI not all of California voted blue. Just LA, Hollywood, Bay Area. San Diego is red