Gift Children

(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

GIFT CHILDREN is a fascinating study of race relations told from an unusual point of view. The author, who is white and married to a white woman, raised two natural sons before the course of events in this book began. When his wife announced that she wanted to have a daughter, the author’s reaction was that he didn’t want to deal with any more babies, and in any event, there was no guarantee that the next child would be female. Together, they decided to adopt an older child.

Doug and Gloria Bates were both from small Oregon farming towns, and neither had even seen a black person before they reached their teens. However, they were both college-educated and tolerant of all minorities, true children of the sixties. They decided that race should not be a barrier, and they wound up adopting two racially mixed girls, who would certainly be viewed by American society as black.

The book works on several levels. It speaks of racism among both blacks and whites, and of the problems the girls had in establishing their identities. It speaks of the difficulties the girls had with peers of both races. But most urgently, GIFT CHILDREN is a comment on the way Americans view themselves and others.

The general tone here is one of bewilderment rather than anger. It is illustrated with color photographs of the author’s natural and adopted family, which by the third generation involved a mixture of white, black, Malaysian, Vietnamese, and Native American ancestries. The author’s major point here is one of love for children by their parents, natural or adopted, and a feeling that any other reaction to children is ridiculous. But this is not a preachy book, by any means. It is a story of success against heavy odds, of love prevailing over bigotry and stereotypes.