Book Review – The Unadoptables by Hana Tooke

books, reviews

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Am I the only one that seems to miss out on all of the bookish drama? It wasn’t until I finished reading this book that I realised there was a load of controversy around it. When looking on Goodreads, it became apparent that people were taking issue with the title of the book and the effect it might have on children in the care system. I understand that you have to be careful about these thing but it’s clear that most of the people making a fuss haven’t actually bothered to read it. After all, the more you know, the harder it is to complain about everything. You might say that, as someone without any connection to the adoption community, that I’m not qualified to comment on the argument. However, it’s clearly an opinion shared by Adoption UK as they’ve published a positive review of Hana Tooke’s book. I’m sorry a bunch of Karen’s are miffed but this isn’t fair to a good children’s book.

With regards to the people criticising this book, I can see that, at first glance, The Unadoptables would look like an offensive title. What I don’t understand is why anyone with even a shred of common sense would believe that anyone would publish a book in order to demonise orphaned children. Then there’s the fact that nothing about the synopsis suggests that Hana Tooke is actually saying these children don’t deserve to be adopted. Instead, she is celebrating the things that make these children spectacular. Far from being unadoptable, the children in this book are brilliant in their own way. Tooke isn’t making an observation about the children but about the people who write them off. Anyone who bothered reading the book would realise that the word “unadoptable” has been reclaimed by the children and is meant to empower rather than suppress them.

It’s also worth noting that the book is set in the late 1800s, so the idea that people would be dismissive of otherness is accurate. Stating a historical fact is not the same as condoning that attitude. The 5 children at the centre of this book would, in all likelihood, have struggled to get adopted in Amsterdam during that time. Not once does Tooke say that they deserve to be left in care for their entire lives. She just understands that society was prejudiced to people of other races or with disabilities. It was also a time in which social care wasn’t as carefully curated as it is today. This isn’t the current adoption experience but more of an Oliver Twist style adoption process.

Something of a shame for our five heroes. None of them fall in the conventional idea of what makes up a prospective parent’s ideal adoptee as they each have something that puts people off. Like Lotta’s extra fingers; Egg’s Asian background; the fact that Fenna is mute; Sem’s big ears and clumsiness; and Milou’s outspokenness and surly attitude. When pitted against the younger and cuter orphans they live with, these 5 stand out for all of the wrong reasons. When we first meet them, they have been in the orphanage for 12 years and their awful matron, Elinora Gassbeek, has had enough. So, she plans to sell them off to an unscrupulous businessman. Thankfully, before he can take them away to a life of endless toil, Milou finds a clue about her parents. Can the children escape their doom and unlock the secrets of Milou’s family?

When this book really gets going, it turns into an exciting little adventure story. There is danger and excitement at every turn, so I can see younger readers being enthralled with the story. There is some darkness here and the children do have the occasional brush with death. However, it is also a story about love and companionship. The friends all work together in order to achieve some incredible feats. This is a story about how wrong first impressions can be. People might initially see these children as being less than perfect but, when it comes down to it, they are all capable of doing great things.

It is also a book that shows you don’t need to find your worth in what society or its systems think about you. The supposed “unadoptables” seem doomed to never find a family. Of course, as the narrative moves on, it becomes clear that they have already found one. If society has turned its back on these 5 kids then they’re going to turn their back on it too. This is a book that celebrates the non-traditional family. It celebrates the idea that a family is whatever you make it. Meaning you can make a family with people who see you for what you really are rather than what you seem. It’s an empowering and wonderful message. Something that is getting ignored because of some people’s wilful misunderstanding of the title.

Inside this book is a rich story of friendship, imagination and courage. It takes us through the streets of Amsterdam and takes on an unforgettable journey. There are so many fun aspects of this story and it takes you on a few unexpected turns. The two major villains here are both deliciously awful and provide plenty of terror to the tale. I admit, it gets a little messy in places and there are some sequences that seem unnecessary or slightly too long. The final twist in the tale is something that adult readers will be able to see coming a mile off but would probably work for the intended audience. The Unadoptables is an emotional, fun and unforgettable story. Hana Tooke has a fantastic ability to create characters and set the scene. She’s clearly a very talented writer and I look forward to seeing what comes next.

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