When the two-time National Book Award finalist Melissa Fay Greene confided to friends that she and her husband planned to adopt a four-year-old boy from Bulgaria to add to their four children at home, the news threatened to place her, she writes, "among the greats: the Kennedys, the McCaughey septuplets, the von Trapp family singers, and perhaps even Mrs. Feodor Vassilyev, who, according to the Guinness Book of World Records, gave birth to sixty-nine children in eighteenth-century Russia."
Greene is best known for her books on the civil rights movement and the African HIV/AIDS pandemic. She's been praised for her "historian's urge for accuracy," her "sociologist's sense of social nuance," and her "writerly passion for the beauty of language."
But Melissa and her husband have also pursued a more private vocation: parenthood. "We so loved raising our four children by birth, we didn't want to stop. When the clock started to run down on the home team, we brought in ringers."
When the number of children hit nine, Greene took a break from reporting. She trained her journalist's eye upon events at home. Fisseha was riding a bike down the basement stairs; out on the porch, a squirrel was sitting on Jesse's head; vulgar posters had erupted on bedroom walls; the insult niftam (the Amharic word for "snot") had led to fistfights; and four non-native-English-speaking teenage boys were researching, on Mom's computer, the subject of "saxing."
"At first I thought one of our trombone players was considering a change of instrument," writes Greene. "Then I remembered: they can't spell."
Using the tools of her trade, she uncovered the true subject of the "saxing" investigation, inspiring the chapter "Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Sex, but Couldn't Spell."
A celebration of parenthood; an ingathering of children, through birth and out of loss and bereavement; a relishing of moments hilarious and enlightening - No Biking in the House Without a Helmet is a loving portrait of a unique twenty first-century family as it wobbles between disaster and joy.
Room for One More?
Lee, at ten, was the first in the family to mention adoption. He tore out of a friend's backyard at dusk when I honked from the driveway and clattered in cleats into the backseat, rosy and dirty under his baseball cap. "I have a surprise for you!" I said as he buckled in.
"Are you pregnant?" he happily cried.
"What?!" I stopped and turned around to look at him in amazement. It was 1998. I was forty-five. "Lee, no."
"Oh!" he said with disappointment, but then offered knowingly, "But did you find someone really, really sweet to adopt?"
I pulled into traffic and silently swung my arm over the seat to deliver a paper bag containing a brand-new bike lamp that had suddenly lost most of its sparkle.
It was uncanny that he'd asked this. A few years earlier I had struggled with the question of whether I was too old to give birth to a fifth child, and as it turned out, Donny and I were but a few months away from wondering if we might adopt a fifth child.
I'd been surprised, as I ...
Greene gives the best description I've ever read about what international adoption feels like from the inside, about the agonies of making the decision and choosing a child, and about the ambiguities involved in taking a child out of grim circumstances in the third world and trying to integrate him into an American family by means of Legos and water balloons.
(Reviewed by Jennifer G Wilder).
Full Review (1118 words).
In the New Yorker review of Melissa Fay Greene's debut book, Praying for Sheetrock (1991), James Lardner writes, "Greene's achievement recalls Jane Austen's description of her novels as fine brushwork on a 'little bit (two inches wide) of ivory'...." Greene is a gifted journalist with a novelist's eye for detail, and the four award-winning books that have preceded No Biking in the House Without a Helmet are constructed around memorable, finely drawn characters and carefully observed settings.
Praying for Sheetrock (1991) examines the culture of McIntosh County, a tiny, rural locale on the coast of Georgia where civil rights fail to arrive, even well into the 1970s. Greene tells the true story of an entrenched and crooked white ...
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Against a background of war, terrorism, disease and unbearable uncertainty about the future, this story of how a foreign correspondent and his wife fought to adopt a Zimbabwean baby emerges as an inspiring testament to the miracles that love and dogged determination can sometimes achieve. Don't miss this gripping memoir.
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