Celeste Ng’s novel is primarily concerned with family dynamics and attends especially to the kinds of love that parents feel for their children. The author explores the love that birth parents, especially mothers, have for the children they bear. The emotional connections of adoptive parents are contrasted to those bonds. The novel also considers children’s love for their parents.
The relationship between Mia and her daughter Pearl is one of the strongest in the book. Mia’s tremendous love for her daughter is increasingly demonstrated as the novel develops. The reader learns that while Mia was pregnant, her love for her unborn child led her to break her surrogacy agreement and, once Pearl was born, to move with her to another state. While Pearl loves her mother, she also seems embarrassed by her and by their precarious financial situation. When Mia later confesses the lengths to which she went to ensure that they could be together, Pearl gains a greater understanding of her mother’s love.
Different kinds of parental love are shown through the conflicts over the adoption of May Ling, later Mirabelle. The reasons that Bebe Chow decided to have her daughter adopted are addressed alongside her regrets and subsequent decision to kidnap her. The characters of Elena and Bill Richardson, the spouses in a two-parent family. Although their four children are all biologically related to them, they support the case of the adoptive mother, Linda McCullough, over that of the biological mother. The author offers a complex situation in which love and legality often seem to be at odds.