With the recent media coverage of the complaints from the athletes participating in the Sochi Olympics, light has been shed on the state of not only orphaned dogs in Russia, but orphaned children as well. Although I think the dogs probably got more coverage.
Last week I read Scattered Links, a novel by Michelle Weidenbenner. I am very pleased to have been able to ask her some questions about this book, that I get to share with you! Michelle is a wonderful author, and has some personal experience that really spoke into this story. But first, here’s a bit of what the story is about.
Scattered Links is about Oksana, a 13 year old living in Russia. She lives with her pregnant mother and her aunt, who get by doing the only thing they know how to do: stealing and selling themselves. Oksana is left alone to deliver her mother’s baby, and in the process makes a decision that she hopes will secure her place in the family, but that affects the course of several lives.
After Oksana’s mother gives birth, Oksana and the baby are taken to separate orphanages, abandoned by their mother, who is too overcome by her addiction to alcohol to fight for them, and by their aunt, who seems to only care that there is enough food for herself.
Oksana’s baby sister is adopted by an American couple, and they make a last minute decision to adopt Oksana too. Through a series of events, Oksana struggles with her new family, holding fast to the hope that her mother will want her back. Oksana’s behaviour becomes impulsive and erratic, even dangerous at times, and her adoptive parents question their decision to bring her back with them. The actions Oksana took during her mother’s delivery come back to play an integral role in the story, but not without some questioning of Oksana’s motives and good judgement.
This book provided so much insight on the unique struggles that children who have been neglected can face. What I love most about this book what that Michelle chose to write it in first person and in the present tense. I was able to really understand what Oksana’s reasoning was, what her thought processes were, and the fact that even though her actions seemed completed irrational to everyone else in her life, she had perfectly good reasons for doing what she did.
I learned so much more about RAD (reactive attachment disorder) through this book than I did in PRIDE training, and it made so much more sense to me. Many times we comment on how lucky a child is to be adopted out of poverty or neglect, when they really don’t see it that way. Understanding that, as well as understanding the causes and impact of RAD is huge for adoptive parents, especially when they’re adopting a child that may not have had a chance to build strong bonds with caregivers.
But enough of my thoughts! Michelle was sogracious inanswering my questions about the novel, and I don’t want to hold you in suspense any longer.
M.E. – The character of Oksana is very well developed, as a 13 year old girl and as a child living in poverty in Russia. What kind of research and personal experiences did you draw from in preparation for writing this book?
M.W. – I traveled to Russia in 1997 to adopt our daughter, but I have a friend who gave up her life to help the orphans in the Ukraine and she sends me email updates on the kids every month. It’s so sad. But I interviewed attachment therapists and visited equestrian therapeutic ranches too. The Russia “streets” parts were based on talking to other Americans who have been to Russia.
M.E. – The book is written completely in first person, in the present tense — a very powerful way of writing, to be sure. What prompted you to write Scattered Links from Oksana’s point of view?
M.W. – This was extremely tough. I wanted to show Oksana’s pov (point of view) and her adoptive parents’ pov, so I have rough drafts of both, but in the end, I think it was easier for me to get in Oksana’s head and stay there. I also have an adopted daughter from Russia, so it helped me understand Oksana a little better. (Although my daughter is more like Ruzina in the story. My daughter’s Russian name is Ruzina too.)
M.E. – Scattered Links sheds light on something that not everyone thinks of when we picture tiny parent-less faces in far-off countries: RAD. Can you explain a little of what that is, and what the consequences of not understanding it can be for adoptive parents?
M.W. – Mayo Clinic defines it this way: A child with reactive attachment disorder is typically neglected, abused or orphaned. Reactive attachment disorder develops because the child’s basic needs for comfort, affection and nurturing aren’t met and loving, caring attachments with others are never established. This may permanently change the child’s growing brain, hurting the ability to establish future relationships.
Parents need to understand the effects of RAD because it’s not temporary. Typically it’s a life-long problem, and sometimes love isn’t enough to help a child with RAD. It takes a lot of therapy and patience.
Children in our foster care system have problems with attachment disorders too. Scientists believe that when a child is deprived of unconditional love in early infancy their brain doesn’t develop properly. Unfortunately, we can’t go back and heal that brain. But I like to read about the hope for these children.
Some parents have so much difficulty coping that they are re-homing their children like pets. It’s very sad.
I learned so much from this book! I would really encourage any adoptive or potential adoptive parent to grab a copy of Scattered Links. It will give you a totally different perspective on hard-to-understand behaviours and insight into what it can feel like to be taken from everything you’re familiar with and moved to a new country, culture and family.
Thank you so much to Michelle for answering my questions! I’m looking forward to reading more of her writing in the future.
Disclaimer: I received a copy of Scattered Links in return for a review based on my own opinion.