Saturday, November 2, 2019

Book Review: (OT) Rock Needs River (open adoption, hippies, divorce, relationships)

Rock Needs River: A Memoir About a Very Open Adoption, by Vanessa McGrady (Little A Publishing, 2019, 189 pages, $14.95 paperback)


If you liked Wild, you will love Rock Needs River. The title was intriguing me all the way through but once author Vanessa McGrady explained it toward the end (sort of), on page 156, it made perfect sense, not only for the protagonist and the other characters in the book, but also for me and probably everyone I know.


The subtitle, A Memoir About a Very Open Adoption, did not wow me: I probably would not have picked up this book had it not been sent to me for review – but am I ever glad I did! And not to worry, McGrady focuses her book on herself in the many years before the adoption for the most part even though this is a love story for her adopted daughter to treasure.

The Hippie?

McGrady lived the life you might have dreamed of: she was a vagabond of sorts but still very successful career-wise and with deep continuing relationships (though it seemed that every couple of years, there was another).

An Open Adoption

She starts to think about kids, but time flies and suddenly she is 40. She continually thinks about having a child (“If I had my own baby, I could love her and she would love me back, on our own terms. We’d make our life as a complete family.” page 51) and tries a few times - even marries a man with teenage girls (a really stressed situation as you can well imagine or in McGrady’s words, “more nerve-wracking than fulfilling”). She researches adoption agencies, prepares a marketing brochure for a pregnant girl looking for the perfect adoptive family for her soon-to-be-born child - and then – a baby* seemingly falls into her lap – who becomes a wonderful creative artistic sprite of a girl she names Grace.

An open adoption is one in which the biological and adoptive parent(s) know each other, may have chosen each other, and perhaps continue their relationship with each other and with the child. Such was McGrady’s life but the biological parents are so very different and McGrady tries so hard to help them. She is torn because she wants the bio parents to love her daughter – but not too much. And she wants the bio parents to be successful so she tries to help them. . . .

Hippies – Or Just off the Grid?

McGrady reminded me so much of Cheryl Strayed (Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail): their life values and experiences, though vastly different are yet similar at the same time. And my reviews of them are six years apart. Perhaps I still keep Wild in my mind
because after reviewing it, I then read another Strayed book (it was that good!) and even saw Reese Witherspoon portraying her in the very successful movie of the same name in 2014.

Not Perfect Words but Nearly So

What does Rock lack?

A table of contents since there are four sections to the tale – all titled – and 19 chapters, all perfectly descriptively titled, I might add.

Much of the book was “all about me” (McGrady) – but both her atypical childhood and family stories could have been abbreviated OR the subtitle could be - something more focused on her and less on the adoption since that is the track the book takes.

The open adoption takes a long time to take place, but, on the other hand, perhaps the long lead-in solidifies our understanding of McGrady and why she does the things she does.

Writing Style*

McGrady takes us through evolving relationships and family dynamics like a therapist. People change. Relationships change, almost imperceptibly, and one may not notice until it is too late to fix – but, generally, both people are aware at about the same time and can’t change back. So they strive to make their children better.

McGrady has a lovely writing style – almost breathless. So many long long sentences that I was glad I didn’t have to read this book out loud! But the sentence length was her personality in word-form and very natural. (Rock is available on Audible for the adventurous listener.)

Reading Rock, you may dream that you lived part of her life or wish you had. I’m glad I did.

PS – I am not going to tell you why the author selected the title, Rock Needs River, but you will remember the meaning for a long time.

*Upon meeting the soon-to-be biological parents for the first time, “On Sunday I fretted over what to wear, with the little knowledge I had about them. Something earthy enough and relatable for hippie musicians but pulled together enough to show responsibility. I settled on a short yellow linen dress with cowboy boots.” Page 76.

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