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Monday, July 11, 2011

6 American Jews + 1 Abandoned Bulgarian + 4 Ethiopian Orphans = A Family??

(Image from Indiebound)
What do you get when you mix six white American Jews with an abandoned Bulgarian boy and four Ethiopian orphans? Chaos, for starters. Eventually, though, you get a family. The Greene-Samuel Family of Atlanta, Georgia, to be exact. How did these 11 people meld different backgrounds, different personalities, and different expectations into one happy, workable unit? That's the question Melissa Fay Greene tackles in her parenting memoir No Biking in the House Without A Helmet. With trademark humor, the journalist describes the tumultuous blending of cultures that rocked her household when she and her husband, already the parents of four, decided to adopt five more children.
Quick to eschew so-called "adoption addicts," Greene insists, "Donny and I have steered by the light of what brings us joy, what makes us laugh, and what feels right and true" (7). That inspiration led them to orphanages in both Bulgaria and Ethiopia, where they found, among vast numbers of needy children, the five destined to become their own. But, as Greene soon discovered

Adoption seems so theoretical, and fun, until you realize you will have to put one foot in front of the other in real time, through actual streets of a city with an impossibly exotic name, on a continent you've never been to, surrounded by people rapidly speaking in many languages of which you will understand not one word - all with the goal of bringing back a traumatized young human being from very far away to your everyday midtown American life (120).
The reality involved yanking terrified children away from everything familiar, shoving them into a blinding new world full of unimaginable sights and sounds, overwhelming their palates with rich, foreign foods, and trying to convince them that the brutal, survival-of-the-fittest mentality by which they'd been governing their lives no longer applied. And that was just the first week. Each time Greene added another child to the mix, she found herself dealing with everything from bouts of post-adoption depression to frustration over her inability to communicate with her non-English speaking children to fear that the new siblings would kill each other long before they had a chance to bond. Through it all, the Greene-Samuels relied on their faith, their senses of humor and, most of all, each other, to turn their mismatched crew into a family.
Maybe I'm just predisposed to like adoption stories, but I found this one compelling on a lot of different levels. I enjoyed Greene's wry take on life, her honesty, and the compassion with which she tells the stories of her children. It's impossible not to laugh with her, empathize with her, and appreciate her determination to create a strong, nurturing family out of eleven very different people. Although there were certain ideas I wish Greene had explored more in the book, overall, I found it both informative and entertaining. No Biking in the House Without A Helmet is a book for all parents and all families - no matter how they were formed.
(Readalikes: Um, Jacquelyn Mitchard called the book "Cheaper By the Dozen for a new planet," which I think describes it very well.)
Grade: B-
If this were a movie, it would be rated: R for strong language (a handful of F-bombs, plus infrequent use of milder invectives) and a small amount of crude humor
To the FTC, with love: Another library fine find


  1. I really liked this author's There Is No Me Without You, and this one sounds good, too. It's on my wish list now!

  2. I've got THERE IS NO ME WITHOUT YOU on hold at my library. It sounds even better than NO BIKING IN THE HOUSE ...

  3. Thanks for the review. I just finished and liked it. I admire this family and what they are trying to do.
    guess I missed the part of your review about the F bombs because I was shocked at how many she included.


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