The Ginger Child by Patrick Flanery
‘But would you take a ginger child?’ a social worker asks Patrick Flanery and his husband as they embark on their four-year journey to adopt. The curious questions comes to haunt the adoption process.
In this memoir, Flanery recounts the couple’s path to adoption, and explores what it means to make a family as a queer couple. The pair must also grapple with being foreigners, with intergenerational loss and deal with a myriad of emotions as they try to become parents. Flanery does not gloss over adoption, documenting in detail the privilege, prejudice, obstacles and detours on the path to becoming parents.
There are moments during the adoption process humiliate, belittle and degrade not only Flanery and his husband, but the very children that are meant to be protected in this process. It makes for an interesting reflection on the adoption process as a whole.
The book moves between heart breaking memoir and musings on parenting, adoption and queerness. Flanery’s musings on the word ginger and all their connotations are clever, haunting and make you think deeply.
Flanery does bare his soul within the pages. He does not apologise for some of his actions or thoughts. This push-pull notion is one all parents are familiar with. Devoting their entirety to raising the next generation while mourning and yearning for their own identity too. These glimpses are refreshingly honest and show a commonality between most parents.
Parts of the book are absolutely stunning, especially the chapters where Flanery writes to O-, a child they hope to adopt. Flanery is a professor of creative writing, and his letters to the four-year-old are breath taking. As a parent they pulled at my heart strings.
However, other parts feel very out of place and irrelevant. Flanery includes a number of critical reflections on blockbuster movies that read like a university thesis. I found myself flipping through pages of the academic-style writing, or else putting the book down for days before I was able to muster up the strength to continue. It was especially hard to follow and read if you hadn’t seen the movie in question.
There are moments where the book and story shine, but it does take determination to read through the dull parts to get there.
In saying that, overall the book feels raw and real and it is hard to critique someone else’s thought and feelings. It is obvious that Flanery found the writing of this book cathartic. It is not my lived experience, nor anyone else’s, so it feels harsh to criticise as such. I just wish some of the stories had been kept in Flanery’s personal collection.
Reviewer: Rebekah Fraser
Allen & Unwin, RRP $36.99