A library reading in Santee, San Diego

Today, I read from Mamalita at the Santee Library in San Diego. In the audience were library patrons, museum friends, and adoptive moms (and one dad) whom I met through blogging and the Mamalita page on Facebook. A woman named Paty told me she found Mamalita browsing through the shelves at Upstart Crow, the indie bookstore where I read a week or two earlier.  Paty’s comment made me realize–again–the importance of one’s book being on an actual shelf in a bookstore. I’m learning that’s a hallowed position difficult to achieve, especially for an unknown, first-time author with no track record, such as yours truly.

I read the opening chapter of Mamalita, “The Hotel Lobby.” The story begins during our first visit to Guatemala. Our adoption facilitator brings us the wrong baby, and I describe the scene sitting on a sofa in the lobby awaiting the arrival of the right one. As I got to the part where I spot a bundle of pink blankets across the room that I recognize as Olivia and say “That’s her,” my voice broke and I started to cry.  Reading in public, that’s never happened to me before. But there was something about being in San Diego, among close friends who have known me for so long and shared some of our adoption journey. Everything came back.

It was an emotional beginning to an hour that included thoughtful questions from the audience about Guatemala, adoption, our story, and the process of writing memoir. Afterwards, I shared a delicious lunch with Library Manager Penny Taylor, who wrote a short book review that ran in the San Diego Union-Tribune on Sunday, November 28. My friend Tomoko took photos of the memorable day, with her snazzy red camera.  Someday soon, I’ll post a few. In the meantime, here’s Penny’s review.

Recommended Reads by San Diego Union-Tribune
Reviewed by: Penny Taylor
Job: Manager at the Santee branch, San Diego County Library.

She recommends: “Mamalita: An Adoption Memoir” by Jessica O’Dwyer (Seal Press: $16.95)

Why: Jessica O’Dwyer and husband Tim Berger knew that adopting their daughter from Guatemala would not be easy. They had done their research, though, and meticulously prepared the required paperwork. When the adoption was delayed, O’Dwyer moved to Antigua to complete the process and to protect her daughter from returning to foster care. Working through the numbing bureaucracy while dealing with greedy adoption agents, the stay stretched to half a year. Despite the strain, the story is told with an obvious respect for indigenous Guatemalan people, arts, and culture and includes descriptions of her travels in Guatemala. I really like the intimacy of this narrative: O’Dwyer shares her personal fears, not only questioning who to trust in this foreign country, but expressing the terror and the joy of being a new mother caring for her baby alone. This is not a maudlin family drama, but a crisply told adventure with a cliff-hanging conclusion.

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