Mother Number Zero (review)
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Reviewed by
Hof, Marjolijn. Mother Number Zero; tr. from the Dutch by Johanna H. Prins and Johanna W. Prins. Groundwood, 2011. [180p]. ISBN 978-1-55498-078-9 $16.95 Reviewed from galleys R Gr. 5–7.

Fay, short for Fejzo, knows that his family is a little unusual: he and his older sister, An Bing Wa, were both adopted; she was an abandoned baby in China, and he was born to a mother traumatized in the Bosnian conflict. A new girl in the neighborhood, Maud, takes a keen interest in Fay’s story and urges him to find his birth mother. Although initially responding mostly to Maud’s urgings, Fay begins [End Page 376] to explore his own feelings about the topic and opens up the possibility of seeking his birth mother with his adoptive parents. Hof, the Dutch author of Against the Odds, writes Fay’s narration with a calm, matter-of-fact voice that possesses a literalness and simplicity in keeping with his youth (though his age isn’t stated, he seems like a double-digit preteen). The story nonetheless treats the characters with quiet percipience; it’s pretty clear, for instance, that Maud is a thoughtless thrill-seeker with little awareness of the emotional ramifications underpinning what she thinks is just a really cool mystery. Most interesting is the treatment of the dynamic between Fay and Bing, and the effects of Fay’s investigation on the latter, who is jealous of Fay’s easy access to information, a juxtaposition that demonstrates the complex variety of adoption and the complex relationship between siblings. Younger fans of domestic novels who like a tale with more gravitas if not reading difficulty will appreciate this thoughtful family story.

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