The Girl in the Mirror faces grief and abandonment

The Girl in the Mirror by Meg Kearney

Persea Books (April 19, 2012)



On the same day adoptee and aspiring poet Lizzie McLaine receives non-identifying information about her birth mother, her father dies of a heart attack setting her on a grief-fueled downward spiral. Without her father and in the face of her mom’s heartbreak, Lizzie reflects on her divided loyalties. She has, or had a great set of parents. Now she has one good mom. Now she doesn’t feel it would be right to search for her birth mother. Even though, she faces the girl in the mirror with so many questions. Who dies she look like? Why did her birth mother give her away? Mother’s Day comes and Lizzie writes a poem entitled “Mother’s Day Poem/Decide Not to Give Mom.” In it, she asks, “what’s a mother’s love when given away…”  But Lizzie’s grief over her dad’s death is as palpable and even more real than the woman who gave her birth. In her poem, “Without,” Lizzie laments, “Without his arm around my shoulder without his voice without kisses on my forehead without laughter at the dinner table” as she counts all the ways she misses her dad.

Lizzie numbs herself with alcohol and isolates herself from old friends, looking for people who can help her forget her own grief and confusion. At first, drinking works, but then, sadness returns and she writes, “For a little while I’d forgotten all my sadness—/the lemonade had brought on a kind of forgetfulness./Now there is that empty space/again, which nothing/can fill….”

In planning this novel, a sequel to The Secret of Me, a novel in verse that explores what it feels like to be adopted, author Meg Kearney says, “When an adoptee sets out to search, she has to be completely ready for anything….by delaying Lizzie’s search I was able to explore further her relationship with her adoptive parents. Her need to know who her birth parents are feels extremely urgent until she’s faced with the loss of her father. I think that’s when she comes to understand what her parents had been insisting all of her life—that she’s not their ‘adopted daughter,’ she is their daughter, period. And her father is her father, her mother her mother. There are two people somewhere out there in the world who gave birth to her, but she realizes they are not, and never will be, her parents.”

If Lizzie’s heart is to heal, she realizes she must take responsibility for her feelings rather than bury them. She must look abandonment squarely in the face to recover her own spirit and rise above her losses. In the process, she claims her love for her parents even as she recognizes her birth parents are out there in the world. This novel, told in the strongest poetic forms, looks at the complex issues of adoption but it is relatable to all young adults who face the death of a parent or even those who wonder how they will become who they hope to become.

Kearney, who teaches in the Solstice MFA in Writing Program at Pine Manor College, includes end matter on poetry and poetic form which will certainly encourage young adult readers caught up in Lizzie’s story to pick up their own pens and try their hands at their own writing.

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