Maya Lange, filled with grief and guilt after the accidental death of her infant daughter, runs her own adoption agency. The Red Thread Adoption Agency places baby girls from China with American parents, based on the theory that an invisible red silk thread connects a baby's soul to everyone who will take a role in that child's life. Maya revels in the fact that her business runs perfectly and that people rely on her and benefit from her expertise. Yet, as steady as she might be during her waking hours, her dreams are plagued with sensations of falling.
As the story opens, Maya is visiting her friend Emily, whose marriage to Michael is faltering under the stress of her childlessness coupled with her husband's blind and dogged devotion to his hateful teenage daughter. Chloe not only visits them all too frequently (complaining about everything Emily does, and reporting it to her mother), but also was invited along on the couple's honeymoon. When Michael arrives home from work, he brings a friend. Although Maya has specifically and repeatedly told Emily that she does not want to be set up, Emily persists in believing she can find the perfect man for her friend. Tonight the blind date is, like his previous counterparts, balding, portly and well-dressed. While Maya resents being put on the spot, she is taken off-guard by Jack's pleasant ways. She reluctantly admits to Emily that Jack is the nicest "victim" yet. Partly to change the subject, but still quite earnestly, Maya suggests that Emily and Michael consider attending orientation at the Red Thread.
Meanwhile, in Hunan, China, a young mother named Wang Chun agonizes over her baby girl, Xia. Chun knows she has no choice. She also had no choice the year before when she gave birth to her first daughter. For the second time she must bundle her baby into a basket and decide on the right place to leave her, even as she asks who will take in Xia and love her.
In the United States, Maya is readying for the orientation meeting in which she will acquaint herself with the latest group of prospective parents. She loves organizing in order to assist these new parents with their long route to their infant daughters. She takes comfort in the paperwork, the meetings, the home inspections, and all the other steps the anxious couples must endure. There are so many details for her to finesse, such as ensuring that each couple takes their orphanage donation in new bills when they travel to meet their babies.
We meet each of the prospective new parents. Among them is wealthy Nell, a businesswoman who glories in checking off tasks on her daily to-do lists. Nell can't quite understand how one of her major life goals --- getting pregnant --- has eluded her. Soft, sweet Sophie is married to Theo, who is becoming more distant as the date for the Red Thread Adoption Agency orientation meeting approaches. It seems that Theo has secrets that will affect Sophie's quest to have lots of children. We meet Susannah, whose daughter's diagnosis of Fragile X syndrome has her afraid to get pregnant again for fear that the inherited disability will strike again. We also meet more parents of the Chinese baby girls and learn of their often heartrending tales.
Ann Hood handles a large cast of characters with elegance, never fragmenting the story or treating the people superficially. Readers will find themselves pulled fully into these lives. Each parent is, while not always likable, truly real and vibrant. Maya, in particular, is a sympathetic and believable main character. In addition, the story is nicely paced, and the details about China and the process of adoption are fascinating.
THE RED THREAD is filled with redemption, sorrow, hope, forgiveness and love. Reading it is an emotional journey (full disclosure: I, not much of a weeper, cried several times, including during the acknowledgement section at the end of the book). Highly recommended.
Reviewed by Terry Miller Shannon (firstname.lastname@example.org) on January 23, 2011
The Red Thread