Probably Ruby Book Review by Lisa Bird-Wilson

Probably Ruby Book Review by Lisa Bird-Wilson

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Lisa Bird-Wilson’s debut novel, “Probably Ruby,” offers myriad perspectives in a multi-generational tale about a transracially adopted Indigenous child. Bird-Wilson takes the reader on a journey with Ruby, a mixed-race girl adopted by a white family, through adolescence and into her own motherhood, navigating her identity throughout her adoption journey. With Ruby as the central character, Bird-Wilson’s debut is a much-needed shift in the adoption narrative, long dominated by the experiences of adoptive parents.

The novel begins in 2013 during a therapy session as an adult Ruby tries to make sense of her inappropriate feelings for her therapist, Kal. But before we can really get to know her, we’re whisked back to 1981 as 6-year-old Ruby plays outside, negotiating the risk of telling the truth after her adoptive mother asks her if she’s peed in the yard.

Adoptees of color with white parents struggle to talk about race with family

Born at a time when single, pregnant teenagers were kicked out and forced to give up their illegitimate babies, Ruby was adopted by Alice and Mel, both white, who were to give her a forever family. However, adoptive families are not immune to dysfunction, and her parents’ marriage does not last, failing the promise of a better life.

Each chapter focuses on a person who affects Ruby’s life at different times, from birth through adulthood as she tries to reclaim and preserve her mixed-race heritage for her children. By filling her home with photos of unknown Aboriginal elders and children, she creates stories about the family life she wanted and now wants her children to have. “She viewed the ‘family photos’ as a terrible but necessary lie,” Bird-Wilson writes. “It was Ruby’s attempt to dream of each other together.”

What a black adoptee wishes her white parents had told her

The complexity and instability of her relationships with her family, friends and lovers present an ongoing questioning of Ruby’s identity and sense of belonging. There are the relationships with his adoptive family and his mixed-race family of origin, each with their own complexities and disappointments. There are the loves she chooses and those she doesn’t, some male, some female, some public and some secret, but all leaving Ruby with a fear of abandonment and an unwillingness to trust anyone. it would be. Among her long-term relationships is one with alcohol, but that too lets her down as it could never make up for what she lost due to her adoption.

Bird-Wilson adds historical context through Johnny’s story in 1950, long before Ruby was born, when he attends one of the religious schools for Native children forcibly removed from their families. It is perhaps not so different from the Canadian residential schools where the remains of thousands of native children were recently discovered in unmarked graves. The abuses in such institutions are well documented and resonate here as Johnny observes priests hiding among the other boys. The implication is that Ruby, too, might have been destined for such a place had she been born under different circumstances.

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While the birth parents of adopted children are often little more than names on a birth certificate or family registry, “Probably Ruby” showcases the perspectives and struggles of Ruby’s birth parents Grace and Leon. Their flaws and small triumphs in a system that shames illegitimacy remind us that birth parents lead full lives marked by the trauma of adoption. Not only is Grace, pregnant and single, fired by her family, but she is also shamed by the staff at Bethany Home. Even still, she finds solidarity with the other pregnant girls and plans to escape from the house which is more like a prison.

The characteristics and decisions of both parents represent an eternal but frayed thread in Ruby’s life as she embarks on her search for her family of origin. Her desire for answers to nagging questions will only raise more questions as she searches for the anchors of her identity.

Ruby is a most believable and authentic protagonist, which is no surprise since Bird-Wilson is transracially adopted and is of Cree-Métis descent. The author centers Ruby’s experience and her journey of adoption identity, with her adopters and birth parents as supporters and contributors to the loss and shame of her mixed-race heritage.

As Bird-Wilson mentioned at a literary festival in April, she wanted to write native joy and have Ruby be all the author needed to hear, ask and explore. an Aboriginal adopted character. Tellingly, Bird-Wilson uses the cry without italics, forcing the reader to put their own ignorance into perspective. The context makes it gently obvious that kohkum means grandmother and moshom is grandfather, and that recovering the original language is fundamental to understanding one’s ancestry.

At a time when the truth is coveted, “Probably Ruby” is a refreshing reminder of the realities of forced Native adoption and family separation. Bird-Wilson’s writing is sometimes poetic and always compelling. We are lucky to have him and Ruby with us.

Julayne Lee is the author of “Not my white savior.”

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