Dreams Of My Mothers

A Story Of Love Transcendent

Fiction - General
344 Pages
Reviewed on 03/16/2015
Buy on Amazon

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Author Biography

As a first-time book author, writing has not been Joel L. A. Peterson’s primary profession. But you would never know that from reading his debut novel. In his book Dreams of My Mothers he brings his unique personal background as a biracial international adoptee and combines it with his penetrating insights into multiple cultures as well as his extraordinary international professional experiences to create an exceptionally enthralling and inspirational story.

Peterson was born in Korea to a peasant Korean woman. His biological father, an American GI, is unknown. Adopted into a small town in Minnesota when he was nearly seven years-old by a family of strong Swedish heritage, he grew up in America's heartland, giving him compelling experiences and rare insights into what drives culture, personal identity, and the power of a mother's love. Peterson used events from his personal background to craft his first fictional novel, shedding new perspective on the evolving dialogue in America about race, family, identity, and the myth and reality of the American Dream.

Peterson is the founder and CEO of Student Planning Services, LLC, a leader and paradigm-changing provider of comprehensive education support services. At the same time, he continues to be the managing partner and CEO of Pintoresco Advisors, LLC. Peterson is a former US Navy officer, was a senior executive with global corporations, and is an insider in the elite world of global mergers and acquisitions. Peterson is a PhD pre-doc in Education Policy at Claremont Graduate University and earned his MBA from Virginia Tech and BA from the University of Virginia. He lives in the Los Angeles area with his wife, Darleen.

    Book Review

Reviewed by Maria Beltran for Readers' Favorite

Born in South Korea to a single mother who is abandoned by her American boyfriend, Lee Young Nam seems to be destined to lead the life of an outcast. Joel Peterson’s Dreams of My Mothers is a chronicle of his life from an obscure South Korean village to a loving family in Minnesota. Extremely poor with the worst prospects in life, his mother Lee Hee Ae resorts to prostitution and they both sink into a life of abject poverty and misery. In a twist of fate, Lee Young Nam is adopted by a loving family in the United States of America and his life takes a different turn. The young boy tries to adapt to his new life and he eventually attains financial success, but his past catches up with him.

Based on a true story, Dreams of My Mothers is a gripping tale of a little boy who goes through so much suffering and misery in his young life. Author Joel Peterson is a master story teller with a creative writing style that is both vivid and captivating so that it is easy to empathize with Lee Young Nam. Just as he sinks deeper into wretchedness and despair, hope comes when he is adopted by an American couple. We lost track of his South Korean mother at some point, but she actually never left the young boy. The story expands with Lee Young Nam travelling to South Korea and one slowly realizes that he is on some kind of a quest. The setting changes from the present to the past and vice versa, and at every turn of the page, it becomes clear that he is in search of something that will hopefully make his life complete. The question is: will he find what he is looking for? This book is highly recommended!

Sheri Stevenson

Only once or twice a year does a book come along that makes me set aside priorities and stay up late into the night reading it in one sitting. I literally could not put this book down. The underlying events of the story are phenomenal and would be an excellent book on their own, but what sets this book apart is how amazingly well-written it is, not only in its very creative organization and storytelling, but also in its prose – which is more like poetry that touches the heart and soul of the reader – and keeps the reader asking, 'What happens next?' I give it my strongest, highest recommendation and know it will be a runaway bestseller!

Anne Coneeney

Lee Young Nam was born in South Korea in 1963. He and his Mother lived in a one room hovel of a home, his Dad having left when his Mom was eight months pregnant. Lee Young never knew his father, who was Irish. Lee Young Nam's mother, Lee Hee Ae was extremely poor, unemployed and had no family to support her. The government did not support children of unwed mothers.
Lee Hee Ae took to prostuition, drinking and bartering in the city. For days, the two of them were without food, water heat, and had only the clothes on their backs. Lee YoungNam was left alone in the one room they shared while his mother went out searching for food, cigarettes, and alcohol.
Lee Hee Ae realized she could not provide for her son. Heartbroken that she needed to make a decision to place Lee Hee Young up for adoption, she knew it would be the best for him. They had a very upsetting separation adoption with promises to re-unite when Lee Hee Young was older. His Mom gave him a pendant with her name, and his Korean name. This he used and later in his his life, used it to locate his Mother.
Lee Hee Young's adoptive family lived in Minnesota. His American family consisted of parents and their four children. Life was very different for hi in his loving family. He flourished and was very successful in school. However, he grew up always trying to explain his place in the world as he felt that people openly shunned him.
Very fast paced, informational facts of the Korean culture, and a heartwarming end.
A story I will always remember!

Paul Murray

What an amazing story of the ability of love to overcome great suffering! The story is powerful and educational. This author tells the story in a compelling way, but also takes time to add explanations for the culture of the time and place in which the characters find themselves. Most authors do not bother to take the time to put you in the scene with amazing details. I thoroughly enjoyed Dreams of My Mothers and look forward to sharing it with my friends and family.


I was privileged and thrilled to receive an advanced copy of Dreams Of My Mothers. Because I am a business owner who works long hours, I really don't have much time to donate to leisure reading. When I do pick up a book, it usually takes me a few weeks to finish it. However, with Dreams Of My Mothers I just could not put it down. I read this book in four days (which is a first for me). I was on a great journey so I didn't want to stop reading. I found myself laughing out loud, tearing up, feeling sympathy and anger at the same time. I loved the way Mr. Peterson would enlighten us with tidbits of information that he would interject which I found very interesting and a relief from the emotional rollercoaster I was on. Mr. Peterson's writing was skillful and cleaver, leaving me at the edge of my seat at the end of each chapter. The ending of Dreams Of My Mothers was quite beautiful to say the least. I do hope that Mr. Peterson writes another. He is a gifted writer!

Now a couple of my friends are reading this novel because I couldn't keep this gem to myself.


Dreams of My Mothers is extraordinary. It’s heart-wrenching, vivid and insightful. The book raises important issues surrounding international adoption, what it means to love a child and the mother-child bond. As a Korean-American who grew up in South Korea in the ‘70s, this book brought back memories of social injustice that affected innocent children like Noah and his Korean mother. Ultimately, this is a story of redemption and two remarkable mothers. I highly recommend this book.

B. From Washington

This is a beautiful story, beautifully told by this first-time author. The story of the young boy's life is just breathtaking (and there are already lots of reviews focusing on that, so I won't do so here), . . . but I actually enjoyed something in the book that some other reviewers may have missed: the descriptions of items, histories of various cultures, explanations of linguistic differences which, though tangential to the fundamental storyline, nonetheless offered a fascinating glimpse into the mindset of the narrator.

Here is a boy who spent the first 6 years of his life in abject poverty, on the fringes of society, a powerless observer in life. Suddenly he gets plucked up and deposited into the Minnesota heartland in a middle class world and family that could not possibly be more different from anything he has ever experienced. Here's one of the amazing effects of that dislocation: the boy develops an acute attention to details, and a desire to understand things in depth, in order to be able to navigate his new world. And EVERYTHING fascinates him, whether it's the flight paths of private jets, the history of the French press, or the echoes of Lutheran history and culture that informed his family's life in the heartland. To discount these musings on the history or importance of things, in favor of just finding out "what happens" to the boy, misses a crucial point. Noah is able to rise to great success in the business world precisely *because* he wants to know everything about everything and to understand everything about culture and religion and how they influence people's approach to life. So all the supposedly tangential descriptions and "history lessons" add a depth and a richness to the protagonist's character, and for me, they add to the authentic feel of the book.

Bottom line, though, this is a story of a boy and his mothers, and it is gut-wrenching but amazingly inspirational. I cried for a good hour after finishing. I will definitely make this a selection in my book club, and hope that they do the movie right, because it has the potential to be a block buster along the lines of The Blind Side and other emotional-rollercoaster feel-good movies. Loved it.

Amy Steinhauser

Dreams of My Mothers is absolutely captivating, a novel based on true events from the life stories of both of the author’s birth and adoptive mothers, deftly interwoven with events from his own. Exquisitely, often painfully, highlighting the joyful as well as the tortured moments of their individual journeys of searing loss, exceptional love and ultimate redemption, the book’s story travels along the boundaries where all our narratives meet, and completely drew me into places I could not possibly have imagined. Once begun, I simply could not put it down.

Joel’s writing is simply stunning. The story itself is singular and unique, and the way he tells it is suspenseful and engrossing. Dreams of My Mothers will be a book that you will want to own and re-read, and its story and themes will stay with you, long after you have turned the final page.

Avid Reader

Honestly, I am really into mystery books, so when I was offered this book to read, I was a little hesitant to get started on it. What a mistake I made!! After I started reading, I could hardly set the book down long enough to eat!. This is an incredibly well written book regarding a subject that I suspect would warm every mother's heart. Mr. Peterson intwines his life with both mothers, exposing the hardship suffered by one and the determination by the other, and the dedication to their son by both. And Mr. Peterson does all that while giving his reader a review of historical and geographical facts which only build a picture even more in the reader's mind. I loved this book and I know you will too!

D. from S. Pas.

This is one of the most beautifully written, crafted, and compelling books I have ever read. And I am an avid, prolific reader. It's so clique to call this story "gripping," but that's exactly what it is. It grabs the reader's imagination, heart, soul, and brain, captivating and consuming one's senses as if the reader is actually alive and witnessing each scene first hand.

The story, inspired by real events, bubbles forth from within the circumstances of family and maternal loss; poverty and desperation; and the agonies, joys, and dreams that lead two mothers to pursue and traverse international and transracial adoption from opposite ends of the process. Adoption - at least as rendered in this singular story by author Joel L. A. Peterson in "Dreams of My Mothers" - serves as a unique crucible within which swirl all the most intense passions, fears, themes, hopes (and, yes, dreams) found within the human condition. Peterson brings a rare focus to rare events that highlight, clarify, and universalize them for any and all readers, allowing any reader to connect and be changed by these powerful human themes.

Other reviews speak to how utterly engaging the story is. Even the critical ones attest to the compelling nature of the story. And I completely agree. I am also one who could not put the book down and had to read it straight through. This book has impacted me as few have - emotionally, intellectually, and physically. My body and heart reacted to the story, its scenes, its twists, its suspense, and its inspirational, triumphant message. I too cringed, cried, and clapped. But most of all, I learned. I learned about a human experience I had never thought about. I learned about issues of identity, race, belonging, family, sacrifice, and who we all can become. But first and last, I learned about the amazing capacity we have to love someone and what the power of that love can transcend.

I give author Peterson my genuine congratulations and thanks for bringing this amazing story to readers. And I give "Dreams of My Mothers" my highest praise and recommendation.

Courtney Garner

I just finished reading this book and it is very powerful. At first I was struck by the fair-haired heroine, Ellen, and how strong and self-sacrificing she was. But when I came to the end of the book, my opinion completely changed about Hee Ae. She was a heroine also. She made the ultimate sacrifice for her son - she gave him up for a better, richer life. I cried for Young Nam and felt so proud of Noah. Beautifully written. The images stay with you long after you finish the story.

K. M. Peterson

This is a story of the love of a mother who made the ultimate sacrifice to give her child a future and the willingness of another mother to open her heart and her family to provide this child with a home and a future. And what an amazing future that proved to be. Keep a box of tissues handy when you read this.

Donna G.

Excellent--very well written! I found I could not put this book down. When one comes across such a well-written and entertaining book, there is nothing else to say. I highly recommend it.

Nicole D

In many ways, Joel Peterson's story is also my story. His words created a window back in time, so vivid in detail that as I read his book, I proceeded to relive my own past. This is how masterful a writer Joel Peterson is. A first time author which in of itself amazes me, I found that his use of flashbacks really helped to create three dimensional characters worthy of their humanity. No one person from little Young Nam to both his mothers Hee Ae and Ellen, and even his birth and adoptive fathers were all good or bad, just human, very real and most definitely relatable. Joel Peterson's storytelling is sometimes raw, but always speaks to the truth, and engages the reader in such a compelling way that you are transported to another place and time. This book grips your heart and doesn't let go until the last page, a roller coaster ride of emotions. I cried, laughed and cried some more.

This is by far the most heart wrenching book I have ever read. My tears flowed freely and often. Thank you, Joel Peterson, for writing Dreams of My Mothers as your words are very much a love letter to my own Korean birth mother. I give this book my highest recommendation to everyone as it not only deals with adoption, but other universal themes of loss, betrayal, redemption, hope and most importantly love.