Title: Belief is Its Own Kind of Truth, Maybe
Author: Lori Jakiela
Published by: Atticus Books in 2015
I never noticed it until recently, but many of the books I grew up loving and remembering in vivid detail are stories of adopted girls. First, there was the eponymous The Great Gilly Hopkins. She waited for about eight years for her birth mother to come get her out of foster care and pushed everyone away because she didn’t want to let them love her.
Then there was The Family Nobody Wanted, a memoir by Helen Doss. When Doss and her husband are unable to conceive a child, they struggle to adopt one…and then another and another until they have twelve kids from all over the world, leading people to call them the United Nations of adopting.
Another standout was Anne Shirley of the series Anne of Green Gables. While the books were too tough for me, I was obsessed with the film. There was also Oranges are Not the Only Fruit by Jeanette Winterson, who later wrote the memoir about her adoption, Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal? Why have adoption stories stuck with me so? Perhaps because these stories always seem like ones of hope in which the adopted person proves that all people are valuable and worthy or love. But Lori Jakiela’s story is both quite messy and front and center of her entire life.
In Belief is Its Own Kind of Truth, Maybe, Jakiela writes the story of how she found her birth mother and discovered she has four half-siblings. To simplify, that’s the whole book. But, the story isn’t simple at all. Firstly, it’s important to know that Belief is Jakiela’s third memoir. I haven’t read Miss New York Has Everything, the first memoir, but I did read and review the second, The Bridge to Take When Things Get Serious.
I would argue that you should read The Bridge to Take When Things Get Serious before you read the newest memoir, Belief. In The Bridge, the author discusses her “real parents,” which is how she refers to the people who adopted her. Her real father has passed away, and her real mother is ill and dying. Jakiela, who is in her 30s, goes to care for her mother while also spending time with new guy she’s attracted to, writer Dave Newman. When Jakiela realizes she is pregnant, despite using birth control, her real mother flips her lid and proceeds to severely shame her daughter. Dave and Jakiela do get married, but throughout The Bridge they fight constantly, insulting even each other’s writing and publications.
But this review is about the newest memoir, Belief is Its Own Kind of Truth, Maybe. The people are represented differently. Dave is now a kind and supportive man: “My husband’s a writer, like me, when the world will let him work,” Jakiela explains. “Today he’s supposed to be writing. I’m supposed to be keeping the kids away. Tomorrow he’ll do the same for me. This is how we love each other” (62). This love they share is very important to understanding Belief. Jakiela has a good husband and children, but she keeps looking for her birth mother. Knowing that her relationship with Dave Newman had a tough start and began quickly (they hadn’t dated long when she got pregnant) reminds readers that though she is content, finding a man didn’t cease her shark-like looking for why she was given away by her birth mother.
Belief is written in very small sections, sometimes only a paragraph or two. By crafting such small passages, Jakiela can really capture an emotion and overpower the reader in a way that forces us to feel empathy. In one section, after Jakiela has found her birth mother, she receives a message from the birth mother that says, “I’ve thought of you often. It’s just too much after all these years. What’s done is done” (249). I’m bummed, but it’s not a bad message. There is a little section break. The next section says only this: “And then, later, she sends another e-mail that says she wishes she’d aborted me. She says she would have, had she known” (249). I’m punched in the heart when the birth mother says she wishes her daughter was dead. Section breaks often give readers pause to prepare, but Jakiela catches us off guard each time, much like she must have felt.
Let’s back up a bit: Jakiela never face-to-face meets her birth mother. She goes to the adoption agency to ask if her birth mother will give her a medical history. The answer is a big fat NO. I’m a bit confused about how it all works out, but I do know that Jakiela gets an email from someone with the username Blonde4Eva, and it’s the author’s half-sister. Blonde4Eva’s grammar and sentences are terrible, and she often highlights her messages in lime green. Apprehension aside, Jakiela keeps looking. She hears from a half-brother who read The Bridge to Take When Things Get Serious and figured out that she was his sister. Jakiela and the birth family still all live in Pittsburgh, so it wasn’t hard for him to put two and two together. Jakiela writes that she plays a song on the piano for her brother (157). Later, she meets her brother and sister for the first time in a bar (191). I started to get confused. Hadn’t she played piano for him before? Maybe this is another brother! There is another brother…but she never meets him. After puzzling it out, I realized there are four children who share Jakiela’s birth mother: BLonde4Eva, a brother she meets in a bar and plays piano for, another sister who is also at the bar meeting, and a brother she does not meet. Sometimes the organization of the book gets confusing, possibly because trying to tell things in order doesn’t always work when you learn who you are out of order, like Jakiela did.
After meeting at the bar, where the brother, sister, Jakiela, and Dave Newman get wasted, I had to wonder if the meeting was significant. And Jakiela does, too. She had “…hoped for more, maybe — a little less party, a little less booziness, fewer ghosts, a little less reality TV” (208). Was this really the answer to the ache to know who she is? In the epilogue, Jakiela notes that she still sees her brother, and they continue to drink at bars and their houses and listen to music. From the reader’s perspective, the relationship isn’t adding to Jakiela’s story. We don’t get to hear their thoughts or conversations or questions. It’s just drunkenness.
Between her birth mother wishing her dead, her real parents shaming her, and her siblings who drink like fish, I kept wishing Jakiela would realize that the love she was seeking was in Dave and her children. But when it comes to adoption searches, you can only watch it unfold. My own husband grew up with his birth mother and a father who adopted him. Not knowing his birth father haunted the second decade of his life. I’ve asked him before: Why find a man you’ve never met when you have a good dad who chose you? This question is unanswerable. After ten years with my husband, the answer is still missing. Knowing my husband makes me patient with Jakiela’s search for family when she already built one, but other readers may find her obsessive nature unbearable. Jakiela finds herself annoying, too (135-136).
One of the most interesting parts of Belief is how Jakiela looks at the smashed dreams of the people in her families and lets the reader be warned that our suffering is passed down to our children. And it happens whether your parents are real or biological. Jakiela’s biological family is miserable. Her grandfather, she learns, was a cold, cruel man who loved his dog more than his children. He would beat kids for small infractions and push them away when they did good (154-156). Jakiela’s mother took on this man’s misery. She ended up pregnant by a man who was already married, so her older sister helped hide the pregnancy all while shaming her (173). (Remember how Jakiela was shamed by her real mother? There’s a lovely connection). Eventually, the birth mother ends up at Rosalia, a home for unwed pregnant women run by nuns. Once Jakiela is born, her mother gives her to an adoption agency.
Jakiela’s real parents can also be cruel people, but Jakiela reminds us how hard they tried to be good people. It doesn’t help that Jakiela’s extended family don’t see her as real family:
We are having our usual Sunday dinner at my grandmother’s house when my aunts mention my [adopted] cousin’s good temperament one too many times.
I am the worst kind of teenager–a seether.
“You mean smart ass,” my father says.
“It’s in you to always look at the worst in things,” my mother says.
“She’s been that way from the moment you picked her up,” my aunt says.
“You never can tell what you’ll get,” my grandmother says, like adoption is a grab-bag sale. (116-117)
Later, when he real mother passes away, Jakiela notices a shift–her mother’s family no longer want to claim her: “After my mother died, Aunt Velma did not refer to her as my mother. My mother became her sister. Aunt Velma became simply Velma. I became some people” (98). Jakiela captures just the right sentiments to put the readers in her shoes, especially those of us who are not adopted. I hadn’t thought about how what once was family could become a sigh of relief for those who want to stop pretending to be related. Based on their cruel comments, why, we might ask, did Jakiela’s real parents adopt her? Her mother reveals that her father had been molested as a boy and it messed him up, so she thought adopting a kid might help (273). Whether the family is real or biological, Jakiela teaches us, one person’s misery is passed down to the next. And it isn’t until the end of three memoirs that she realizes her husband and kids are the important family, “the most sacred thing” (257).
Belief Is Its Own Kind of Truth, Maybe was a difficult book to review. Here’s how this review was created:
- First outline
- First rough draft
- Second outline
- Second rough draft
- Third outline
- Brainstorming session with my husband
- Freewriting session
- Third rough draft
- Fourth rough draft
While I was incredibly frustrated trying to evaluate this book, I kept reminding myself of how frustrated Lori Jakiela must have been not only writing this book, but living a life that she has to piece together when it is her right to know. Belief is Its Own Kind of Truth, Maybe is a page turner, an emotion twister, and an empathy builder.
This summer I will be reading and reviewing the entire Anne of Green Gables series. If you’re interested in reading along, please let me know in the comments!