Surrender

A Memoir of Nature, Nurture, and Love

Non-Fiction - Memoir
393 Pages
Reviewed on 09/07/2020
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    Book Review

Reviewed by Tammy Ruggles for Readers' Favorite

Surrender: A Memoir of Nature, Nurture, and Love by Marylee MacDonald is a moving coming-of-age story about adoption straight from the heart. From the first few paragraphs, you will be touched by how adoption shaped her--from birth, through her formative years, and later, as a teenager and the surrender of her firstborn child from an unplanned pregnancy. The author captures the feelings, turmoil, and issues of living with uncertainty, confusion, and lack of support. You begin to realize that a great number of adopted children must experience some of the same emotions and struggles. Her craving to sort out nature/nurture is a major theme, as is her quest to nurture the child inside that lost out on so much.

Adoption, from all angles, seems to have permeated the author's life, and she has a beautiful way of conveying all the nuanced thoughts that come with it. I like that the book reads like a fiction novel as well as a memoir, complete with interesting dialogue, conflict, and pacing. MacDonald's style is honest yet full of grace. I like that she gives a brief introduction about her own adoption, and the surrendering of her son, and then backtracks to slowly pull you into the story and her inner conflicts, and how they affect her relationships, decisions, and self-image. The opening dialogue with her husband Bruce about moving to Phoenix is a priceless slice of life. It's about control, and you can cut the tense realism with a knife. As the story moves through its arcs and her desire to connect with her oldest child, you will be drawn deeper and deeper into it, until you become a part of this woman's life in a way and will find yourself relating to her, even though you may or may not have any experience with adoption. Surrender: A Memoir of Nature, Nurture, and Love by Marylee MacDonald is a must-have for your reading pile.

Gobi Jane

Surrender: A Memoir of Nature, Nurture, and Love by Marylee MacDonald is a compelling memoir that explores family dynamics and coming of age, a story that is tender and fierce at the same time, told in a style that is insightful and in an engrossing first-person narrative voice. An adoptee herself, the protagonist had to surrender her child at the tender age of sixteen, when she wasn’t wise enough to know what it meant to have a child and lose him. It was back in 1962 when women giving away their children for adoption had to sign a waiver that stripped them of their legal right to know anything about their baby. In this memoir, the author shares her story of loss, the dynamics in the family that adopted her, and what growing up without her son felt like.

This story is intimate and it tells the author’s son the circumstances of his birth. The writing is impeccably good, at times evocative and lyrical. The author tells her story in a voice that is compelling and with an attitude that is candid. It is filled with insightful passages and explores what it feels like to be adopted. Being an adoptee and giving her own son up for adoption is a powerful premise that puts the author in a position to not only understand her own pain but that of others. In this memoir, the words 'nature' and 'nurture' take on a whole new significance and it is easy to root for the protagonist as she navigates family dynamics and love towards maturity. Surrender: A Memoir of Nature, Nurture, and Love is warm and touching, a compelling story that is as insightful as it is filled with lessons.

Ruffina Oserio

Surrender: A Memoir of Nature, Nurture, and Love by Marylee MacDonald is a compelling memoir that tells the story of adoption, loss, love, and family with strong hints of coming-of-age. The author, herself adopted, loses her son at the age of sixteen when she has to surrender him to be adopted. This also means that she has to surrender her right to know whatever becomes of her son. The big question is: Will she ever connect with her son again and what happens then?

This is a beautifully crafted memoir and from the very first page, one immediately feels the heartbeat of the narrator. The uneasiness she’d always felt in her adopted home is well captured in the opening paragraphs and she offers insightful commentaries on the social norms of the world she grew up in. While this is a true story, the author starts with a powerful premise and introduces the conflict right off the bat. It moves on with thrilling suspense and I kept on turning the pages to see what happens next. The themes are wonderfully written with the family taking a central place in the author’s writing, relationships, adoption, and the impact it has on both those giving away their children and the children themselves. It is insightful, featuring great writing and wisdom. Surrender: A Memoir of Nature, Nurture, and Love is a gripping story filled with lessons about our humanity and the pain of separation. It is psychologically rich and emotionally moving.

Foluso Falaye

Back in 1962 when abortion was illegal and the idea of reproductive freedom was nonexistent, sixteen-year-old Marylee relinquished the custody of her first son to Catholic Social Service, a child welfare agency licensed under the laws of the state of Arizona to place children in family homes for care or adoption. Since a child born out of wedlock would have shamed her Catholic foster-mother, Marylee MacDonald had to surrender her son to save her mother. She eventually got married to her son's father and after four more children with him, she set out to right her wrongs and seek the son she had agonized over and abandoned for twenty-one years. Surrender: A Memoir of Nature, Nurture, and Love is an open-hearted account of the struggles of a pregnant teen, the stigma she faced, and her stormy, youthful romance.

Whenever I come across a well-written memoir, I get satisfaction in knowing that it actually happened, especially when it is subtly moving and compelling like Surrender. Marylee MacDonald writes in a sincere and natural tone, which makes her book feel pleasantly short and easy to read. I was glad to learn some new things, like the developmental changes ascribed to a baby's separation from its mother and more interesting facts about adoption. Apart from the strong themes of adoption and teenage pregnancy, Surrender touches lightly on themes of divorce, sexual assault, lust, guilt, drunkenness, gossip, homosexuality, and therapy. Finally, it reminded me of my high school days and gave me a close look into growing up in America in the 1960s. Marylee MacDonald is a sensational writer!

Jamie Michele

Surrender by Marylee MacDonald is the author's memoir chronicling a life of difficult circumstances and heartbreaking decisions, and her lifelong path to healing. The book begins with MacDonald immediately disclosing that she'd had a child out of wedlock who was put up for adoption, Marylee signing away her rights in perpetuity as she penned her name on a dotted line. Later, she marries her lost son's father and the two have more children. MacDonald has great difficulty coming to terms with her loss, understanding the need for an individual to know their genetic history as an adoptee herself, but also in filling the dark void that had established itself in her life following John's adoption. Their reunion is an emotional experience and after describing it, MacDonald backtracks to the history that brought her story to fruition.

Surrender is an exceptionally well-written memoir that is immersive from the beginning. Marylee Macdonald wastes no time in getting to the heart of the matter, which is helpful in an autobiography about a non-celebrity and engages a reader in a way that makes them want to carry on. I loved the honesty MacDonald sustains through the narrative, a whole-hearted truthfulness that puts her struggles in the light of authenticity. While she does attach her motive for putting John up for adoption as a norm for the time, she also makes clear the regret and hardship that follow a decision made by a naive sixteen-year-old in an incredibly difficult situation. It's amazing to me that MacDonald, her first husband John, and her second Bruce, were all educated and accomplished, a distinguished circumstance that separates MacDonald from the usual stereotype of women raised during the time. This is an extraordinary story that I am so grateful to have had the opportunity to read.