Author: Marylee MacDonald
When fifteen-year-old Marylee MacDonald falls pregnant and must give her child up for adoption, she is forced to come to terms with her own childhood and adoption story. Set in the 1960s, Surrender is MacDonald’s memoir of her experience as a pregnant teen, an adopted daughter, and a young woman trying to find herself.
MacDonald references The Primal Wound by Nancy Verrier, a non-fiction book that explores the effects adoption has on children, to reflect on her own experience of being adopted and the subsequent adoption of her first child. MacDonald draws on The Primal Wound to offer the reader a deeper understanding of how deeply adoption can wound a child and how this wound can fester from birth through the rest of their lives. Drawing parallels from outside resources rounds out the memoir and expands the book’s purpose beyond sharing the author’s personal story by opening up a conversation about adoption in general.
The memoir opens with an older MacDonald who meets with her first-born son and tells him his birth story. This first part of the memoir sets the scene for the rest of the book. Although there are some important clarifications and logistical details in Part I, overall, the book has a slow start. The book’s pace quickly picks up and becomes more engrossing as we get into the meat and potatoes of the author’s circumstances, personal relationships, family history, and inner conflicts.
Included throughout the book are photos of the author, her parents, partners, and children. One of the highlights of the entire book, the photos are a joyful contrast to the often serious tone of the text. Additionally, the photos feel like a personal touch as they put faces to names of the people readers grow to know so deeply.
The strongest parts of the memoir are the painfully real and unedited conversations. The dialogue fleshes out MacDonald’s relationship dynamics and makes the book all the more immersive for the reader. MacDonald’s depiction of her strained relationship with her parents is emotional and raw. The historical context and the author’s memories go hand-in-hand to create a full picture for what divorce and abusive marriages looked like in the late 1950s.
The story becomes more serious and reaches incredible depth. In the most vivid, intense scene of the book, MacDonald gruesomely, but realistically, describes labor and birth. Readers will ache for young MacDonald as she is caught in the middle of a situation that is both of her doing and out of her control. MacDonald’s writing captures the true voice from her youth, and it often feels like we are reading from her diary, which we have the opportunity to do on the occasion.
Surrender is a moving, inspiring, and eye-opening account of the life and love of a young woman who is trying to find herself. In Surrender, MacDonald lets us into the most intimate corners of her life story. Balanced with equal parts tension, pain, and peace, Surrender reminds us that in a world full of conflicting messages, we can rise above our circumstances to find love and healing after all.
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