We jump into this flashback in 1994, where Brianna is three years old and living in an orphanage in Iraq that seems to be more than a little Annie-esque. It's a hard knock life indeed for Brianna, who laments that she "merely existed."
She asked, but no one knew anything about her past life. There were no pictures of her as an infant, no accounts of her being held or loved. Nothing! It was almost as if her past was erased, or she had never been born.These are some deep angsty questions for a three-year-old...
Time goes on, and Brianna keeps not getting adopted. She's convinced it's because she has blue eyes and a heart-shaped birthmark on her face.
Brianna longed to live a normal life and play games that little girls played. Dolls , dress-up, and jump-rope were things she desired to do, but unfortunately never would.I'm not entirely sure how she's aware of these things at this age and in her situation. Is there a TV showing these things in movies or shows? If the orphanage has a TV and TV coverage, how can it not afford ropes? You don't even need a jump rope to jump rope. You just need a rope. Surely that can't be that difficult to come by.
Brianna lives for a little while in a house that is apparently going to do sex trafficking with the kids they adopt, but before they get around to that, the kids are rescued. The kids with families are sent back to them, and the orphans are reassured that they'll get adopted, but Brianna gets extra sad because she's convinced she's never going to be adopted.
The man in charge of the rescue talks to Brianna for awhile, including talking about God and making her repeat a Bible verse in English, which she does not speak. Then he renames her:
“Now, Little Miss, your name is not ‘Wesh-m,’ anymore. You will be called ‘Janna,’ which means, ‘God is gracious.’”I'm assuming he has some reason to know that this is what Janna means, but I like to think he's just a walking baby name book. Or he names every orphan he sees "Janna" because it's the only name he knows the meaning of. (Incidentally, Janna does indeed mean something like "God is gracious." Yay research! We don't get a lot of that in these books!)
The man, whose name is Ethan Anderson, decides to adopt BriannaWesh'mJanna and take her home to Arizona. They talk a lot on the plane, and during the stretch from L.A. to Phoenix, he teaches her "This Old Man." (Apparently one of the themes of Ethan's life is that he sings a lot.)
He smiled at the child and repeated the song, teaching her the words and motions . Before long some of the others on the plane sang along. By the time they landed in Phoenix, she and many of the passengers knew the words and actions by heart.As we see in Skye later, Rothdiener has no idea about appropriate airplane behavior. I would not be fond of a "This Old Man" sing-along that ran for the entire duration of a flight, even a short one like this.
The flight attendants were humored by the antics of the passengers."Oh, I wish I had more flights where people sang the same nursery rhyme for an hour and a half!"
Ethan talks more about Jesus. The scene's preachy, but not horrific, so we'll skip past it and move ahead to where we meet Ethan's wife, Susan, and get some back story about her:
She was a college student, a business major, when she first met Ethan. After graduating, she landed a lucrative career at a large cosmetic firm. Advertising was her specialty. Her glowing face was often seen on commercials, billboards, or in beauty magazines.Business majors working in advertising don't frequently end up in the spotlight -- that's more typically done by, you know, models or actors -- but the book does make a point of telling us a lot about how beautiful she is. She won some beauty pageant once. I just like imagining her at work: "I have an idea for a new campaign. And it will feature... ME! Again. Of course."
We discover that Ethan wanted to be a missionary, but when he got married he settled down to be a counselor and college teacher instead, and he's always felt there was something missing as a result.
Susan is super nasty to Brijanna right from the start, making a face at Brijanna's birthmark and then saying, "This is your idea, you know, not mine!" to Ethan. So we've got a Cinderella's stepmother situation here for sure.
On the ride home, Susan gets all kinds of snarky about the birthmark, saying that kids are going to make fun of her because they make fun of kids with disabilities and that she's going to make it tough for Susan and Ethan's other kids to follow her in school because of it. Dang. Ethan snarks back at her, since she's the most ridiculously shallow person on earth, and everything is awkward.
At one point, Susan, who is pregnant with twins, talks about wanting to go back to work after the babies are born, and this exchange happens:
With certainty, Ethan replied, “Susan, nothing is more important than raising our children.”
“Oh, I see, a woman’s place is in the home!”
Her words stung. Without backing down, Ethan glanced at her out of the corner of his eyes. “At this point in our lives, yes, it is.”
With that, the conversation was over. Susan knew she had gone too far.1) She had "gone too far"? By daring to insinuate she wanted to go back to work? Well, that's a line you just do not ever cross in this family, I guess...
2) ETHAN WHAT DID YOU DO. If he plans to leave the child-rearing to Susan, adopting a new child who has been neglected before is the worst idea.
Also, it's worth mentioning that this is one of those situations where I really have a problem with defaulting to the "man works, women takes care of the kids" scenario. Susan clearly likes her job more than he does (and almost certainly makes more money) and he clearly likes taking care of the kids more than she does. The scenario they have going right now will make everyone in the house miserable, and it's the kids who are going to suffer the most.
Ethan and his wife apparently live in a massive five-bathroom house, which seems really unnecessary for their family, which consisted of three people before Ethan abruptly adopted Brijanna. Susan seems pretty high maintenance but I seriously doubt she needs three different bathrooms for her morning routine.
So time goes by, the twins are born, Susan is still an awful person, Ethan gets sad, and Brijanna is bitter.
There are a few things Brijanna does like: music and the ocean.
Many times Janna would ask, “Daddy, can we go see the ocean?” They would pack their bags and head to Ethan’s parent’s beach home near Corpus Christi, Texas. It was the favorite place for Janna and Eric....Guys, that's a 15-hour drive from their home in Mesa.
That is longer than it would take for me to get to the Atlantic Ocean from my home in Indiana. Sheesh, why am I not driving to New York City all the time?
When Brijanna turns 10, things take an even darker turn. She gets all rebellious and difficult and starts lying to Susan all the time. But Susan's not exactly easy to live with either. One day she smashes Brijanna's guitar because she was tired of hearing Brijanna play.
Brijanna turns 12, everybody stops going to church which is clearly a sign that it's all about to implode, and the book hints that things are indeed about to get a lot darker:
A couple months later, Ethan’s world was turned upside down, shattered. The reason was unknown. Nevertheless, it happened.Gah. This writing. It's a good thing this is the end of the chapter, because I am pretty sure I couldn't read much more of this.