Literary Mama writing about the many faces of motherhood
Blog Book Review: Chosen

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A novel by Chandra Hoffman
(Harper/Harper Collins, 2010; $25.99)

In her debut novel Chosen, Chandra Hoffman reveals the inner workings of domestic open adoptions.

The Chosen Child adoption agency is located in Portland, Oregon. Adoptive parents fill out forms stating what kind of baby they are willing to adopt. Will they take a mixed race baby? Will they take a baby exposed to drugs in the womb? Meanwhile, biological parents search through a binder of prospective parents' pictures and vague bios, trying to select the best future for their child.

Hoffman intertwines the lives of three couples -- the McAdoos, the Novas, and Penny and Jason. They are all connected through Chloe Pinter, the domestic adoption caseworker, who is in the unique position of dealing not only with the adoptive parents but also with the biological parents.

Adoption is always fraught with drama, but Chloe's current case is extremely trying. The wealthy and demanding McAdoos are waiting to adopt the child of Penny, an impoverished girl, and Jason, her ex-con boyfriend.

From the beginning of the novel, we know that something is going to go wrong. On Thanksgiving Chloe brings dinner to Penny to make certain she is taking good care of herself and her unborn child. Jason is there: "He is simply a man cornered by circumstances, dependent on a woman, and that can be a dangerous sort of animal."

Chloe finds herself more and more involved, more and more invested in the lives of the people on both sides of the process. She's young, attractive, intelligent, and she loves her work, even though it rules her schedule and threatens her relationship to her sexy, unemployed, surfer-boy fiancé who wants to leave gloomy Portland for the beaches of Hawaii.

Hoffman continues to build suspense. Paul and Eva Nova, once clients of Chosen Child until they discovered they were expecting their own child, are eventually pulled into Chloe's current case. Early in the novel, on that same Thanksgiving Hoffman gives us this foreboding paragraph:

Eva doesn't respond. She takes her index finger, slightly greasy from the turkey skin, and traces her signature swirls and paisley doodles on the condensation of the passenger-side window. Months later, after the unthinkable has happened, before the police impound her car, Paul will sit in this same seat, in his own driveway, nowhere to go but desperate to unzip out of his skin, his life, and the morning dew will make the pattern reappear. He will wonder how he ever thought things were anything but perfect on this Thanksgiving night.

Each day Frances McAdoo waits, wondering if this will be night she gets the call. The night the baby is born and Penny signs the papers. The night she takes her baby home.

And what will Penny's "dangerous sort of animal" boyfriend do once they're left without the support of the agency?

Hoffman creates characters you want to read about even at their most despicable, characters you hope will get what they want, and what they need. Chosen culminates in an ending that both surprising and deeply satisfying.

Susan Barr-Toman is the author of the novel When Love Was Clean Underwear. Her blog Philly Word of Mouth covers local Philadelphia authors and literary events.

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