Older Sister. Not Necessarily Related is a unique kind of autobiography. Jenny Heijun Wills tells her story in bits and pieces. She has written diary-like entries that read like hauntingly beautiful poetry. Some of these fragmented memories and emotional responses are only a few sentences long and others cover three or four pages.
Older Sister. Not Necessarily Related chronicles Jenny’s adoption by a southern Ontario family. Jenny was born in Korea and as a young adult she returns there to find her birth parents and two sisters. This reunification is complicated by a language barrier and fraught with anger, sorrow and love. At times it seems too rocky a path for Jenny to navigate and you marvel at her tenaciousness.
Jenny in essence has five families. Her biological father was a married Korean man with a family. He had an affair with her biological mother which resulted in Jenny’s birth and adoption. Later Jenny’s mother married a different man and had a family of her own. Jenny was adopted into a Canadian family and she married into another family. With the arrival of Jenny’s daughter she and her husband create a family of their own. Juggling all these families and their complicated web of relationships is a huge challenge that understandably, sometimes gets the better of Jenny who struggles with mental health issues.
Saying I enjoyed this book wouldn’t be exactly right. It is too dark and although the author certainly bares her soul for the reader I felt cheated because too many people in Jenny’s life including her husband and her adopted family are never really named or fleshed out as characters in a major way and yet they played a huge role in Jenny’s life, a much bigger role I suspect than her Korean family members.
The book offers a good look at the complexities of international adoptions and the impact they have on everyone involved. I am glad I read it. Jenny did her thesis on the subject of international adoptions and has edited an anthology and written essays on the topic. You can find these on her website.
Jenny is a professor at the University of Winnipeg where she teaches a course about viewing young adult literature including books, film, television programs, video games and social media through a critical race studies lens. It sounds fascinating.
Jenny also has a fascinating instagram page featuring her skills as a baker and make up artist.
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