International Adoption in Kid Lit: Where’s the YA Rep?


Hi, my name is Erika! I am a writer (and web manager!) for Pine Reads Review.

I am also adopted from China.

This makes me an international adoptee, or transnational adoptee, since I was born in one country and adopted by a family in another. Growing up, my parents bought many great picture books about adoption. Two of my personal favorites were Little Miss Ladybug & Her Magical Red Thread, written by Karen Acres and illustrated by Louise Pomminville; and I Love You Like Crazy Cakes, written by Rose A. Lewis and illustrated by Jane Dyer. Both picture books revolved around Chinese adoption stories, and these books were really special to read as a Chinese adoptee. 

Today, November 9th, is World Adoption Day.

To celebrate, I wanted to make a list of picture books, middle grade, and YA stories that feature international adoption. Whether that’s books with characters who are international adoptees, books written by adopted authors, or just books that generally represent transnational adoption. There are a lot of picture books and a fair number of middle grade books that feature a wide range of adoption stories, so I knew that I’d have no issue highlighting more recent publications for this blog. But as I was doing more research, I started to notice that YA books had a pretty significant lack of recent international/transnational adoptee representation.

This fact was both surprising and not surprising to me. On one hand, with such a rise in diverse stories being told by equally diverse authors, I expected more YA books to have international adoptees in their stories. On the other hand, I know that I haven’t heard a lot of news about YA books that featured international adoption. The majority of the fiction YA books that I could find about international adoption were published almost 10 years ago. That’s a big time gap. So much has changed about adoption laws since these books were written. Plus, there’s an entirely new social and political climate revolving around representation and identities that teens experience today.

Before I keep going, I should clarify that there are a lot of great books that feature adopted characters. There are books with foster care representation, as well as domestic transracial adoption (people are adopted by a family of a different ethnicity, all living in the same state/country). Some fantasy YA books feature adoption in various degrees, too. And these books are all valuable in representing the vast diversity of adoption stories out there, but they just aren’t the same as international adoption representation. And that’s OK! I would just like to see more contemporary YA books that showcase the experiences and feelings of transnational adoptees in a modern setting, which I can relate to. 

Now, I want to touch on why I think international adoption representation is so important.

For one, contemporary YA books with international adoptee rep can help validate adoptees’ feelings. YA rep can also help them explore their cultural identity and family experiences. There are a lot of questions that a transnational adoptee can have when figuring out their ethnic identity, or their relationship to their family and community. The same way POC authors can share lived experiences with POC readers, or how queer authors can reach young LGBTQ+ readers, adoptee authors and books featuring adoptees can impact adopted readers. Teenage-Erika would’ve loved to read books about characters like me: adopted from another country, figuring out middle school and high school as a person of color in a predominantly white school with non-Chinese parents. College-Erika would still love to read YA books with characters like this! 

A second reason I would like to see this representation is because of the social and political climate with culture, race, and identity today— which I mentioned earlier. I think now, maybe more than ever, there is a huge need for all kinds of stories with characters from diverse backgrounds to be explored for a YA audience. Cultural identity and identity politics are so influential for teens. And contemporary stories about international adoptees just don’t exist in the YA market. There are nuances to the cultural and familial experiences of transnational adoptees. There are conversations about being internationally adopted that are helpful for young people to hear, adopted and not. Having that kind of representation in YA books would be a great opportunity to start these conversations and make connections.

To wrap up my blog, I want to also bring up the fact that I am not only looking for emotionally heavy and intense representation of international adoption. These things definitely have their own place in YA books, but I also want characters with my background just living life. I want to read about transnational adoptees going through all the same high school drama, fast-paced competitions, and movie-esque rom-coms that any other YA character would. I want more books like The Jasmine Project by Meredith Ireland, where being transnationally adopted is an acknowledged part of the book, but not the sole focus of the story or character (shameless plug: go check out our review of the book, and our interview with Meredith Ireland!). 

I eagerly look forward to reading more YA books with characters who share my background and live similar experiences.

Characters who I can connect with and celebrate in a way that I have so rarely been able to do. Characters who explore being internationally adopted— in all of the beautiful, sometimes confusing, and definitely story-worthy complexities that it brings. 

PRR Writer, Erika Brittain