The book ... deftly presents the knotty quandary of transracial adoption: Andrew’s mother is dead. No father has come to claim him. His sister has her own family and can’t take care of him. Isn’t it better that Rebecca adopt him, giving him a life of unconditional love and all the privileges that go to the son of a wealthy white family ... That Kind of Mother is not about transracial adoption at all. It’s about white privilege. And therein lies the quiet brilliance of this novel. It is not an earnest condemnation of Rebecca, or a heart-rending screed on racism in our society, or a sentimental tale of nature versus nurture. Rather, it’s the portrait of one woman who blithely adopts a black child because, to quote another adopter, 'the heart wants what it wants' ... With That Kind of Mother, Rumaan Alam has written a thoughtful tale of transracial adoption that lays bare the good, the bad, and the ugly without clobbering the reader over the head ... it has a lot to tell us about the state of our country today.
Alam is a writer of true empathy ... Mother isn’t big on plot or surprise. It thrills in its attention to nuance, its construction of a full, flawed, loving heroine. Alam’s generous rendering rings authentic. Whatever takeaway one has of Rebecca, a protagonist sure to polarize due to the verisimilitude with which Alam draws her, she emerges with an open, beating heart. It’s partly because Alam knows when to gracefully drive in the knife. He’s wry, but never cruel — confident enough to pinpoint life’s ugliness while keeping hope alive.
That Kind of Mother...is both provocative and vexing ... Alam shrewdly explores the complexities of caregiving as employment, illuminating issues of class and race that arise when people are paid to do hard, dirty work and, in essence, to provide love. While Rebecca’s life is an open book, Priscilla is private—a dynamic yet contained character whom anyone who’s spent time with middle-class American parents and their babysitters will recognize all too well ... The book’s central issues—white privilege and transracial adoption—are lived with but not fully reckoned with, either dramatically or even, for all of Rebecca’s optimistic navel gazing, internally. While Alam depicts Rebecca’s faults with a natural-born observer’s smart and funny gaze and a heightened sense of irony, I wasn’t always sure what to make of her ... In Rebecca, he has created a flawed and sometimes irritating character who fully and completely loves her children—adopted and biological, black and white—beyond reason, because she is their parent. It is that all-consuming, passionate and annoying parental love that resonates and gives this book its value. It also rings true. In this sense, both the author and the character he searched both inside and outside of himself to create ultimately perform the jobs they were meant to do.
Alam poses important questions about race, privilege, and the nature of family ... Priscilla, we sense, sees it differently. This is part of what makes her a far more interesting character than Rebecca, who comes across so vaguely through so much of the book that it’s fair to wonder whether Alam has a clear picture of who she is ... Alam is good at throwing curveballs and keeping us interested, but his hand is heavy in these pages, orchestrating events in too-convenient ways ... Alam, an adoptive father in a multiracial family, is wonderful at observing small children, and there’s something charming about his almost drive-by allusions to 1980s culture ... There are times, though, when the author’s maleness is jarringly apparent ... What Alam is best at, and most interested in, is examining the ways that families evolve, their reality so much more fraught than the images of perfection we’re meant to mimic.
Alam is careful to delineate the exhausting, embarrassing elements of early motherhood’s routines ... But Alam’s mothers are not one-dimensional martyrs. They question themselves; they wonder if they’ve made the right choices. They’re refreshingly human, vibrating with imperfection ... That Kind of Mother’s greatest triumph is its insistence on complicating the rescue narrative of transracial adoption without resorting to dogmatic indictments of its characters.
...[a] supple novel ... The prose is cadenced and uncluttered, with some memorable phrases stuck in the stream like ice floes ... That Kind of Mother takes its place in the mini-boom of mothering literature ... Alam’s contribution feels more traditionally novelistic, with a regular rhythm of chapters proceeding in a straight chronological line ... He alternates, as Offill and Galchen did, between wryness and the sort of dazed lyricism accessible to those who wake up at 3 a.m. to breast-feed. And he is similarly wise about how even the most enlightened households distribute domestic labor along gendered lines ... Where the novel breaks new ground is in its balancing of these themes with issues of race and adoption ... For all its affinity with the mom-lit canon, That Kind of Mother is also in dialogue with books explicitly about white privilege.
Alam explores these issues with grace, contrasting the experiences of these two women with those of Rebecca’s idol, Princess Diana. That Kind of Mother is a meditation on race and the challenges and joys of parenting.
Alam has created an outstanding depiction of motherhood and cross-racial adoption. He deftly sets up these characters to fail repeatedly even as they persevere. The tensions of privilege and identity are brilliantly set against the backdrop of wealthy American cities, and Alam’s pacing is phenomenal. That Kind of Mother is astonishing book, one unafraid to look at the minefield of parenting and race. It reveals how we blind ourselves to the truth — and how we might finally open our eyes.
Surely, Alam did not set out to create an unlikeable character, and there are moments of real vulnerability in Rebecca...And yet, whatever maternal instinct she has stops at exploring or considering race ... Gradually, we see what it looks like for Rebecca to become the white mother of a black child — through the eyes of a Bangladeshi American gay man raising black adopted children with his white husband in an upper-middle class neighborhood. And the truth is, whether intentional or not, Alam has hit the nail squarely on the head. His is an exceedingly accurate portrait of the many white women who have adopted black children in America ... This, though, is why Alam's novel is so important. That Kind of Mother offers a blueprint for how not to be a white mother of a black child, while also, to a careful reader, prompting questions for prospective white adoptive parents of black children. And more broadly speaking, what does it tell us that a gay brown adoptive father of two black children chose to tell the story of interracial adoption by centering it on the experience of a white woman?
...[a] quietly brilliant novel about motherhood, families, and race ... his portrait is quite possibly the best peek at motherhood and its disorienting seesaw effects on a middle-class suburban woman that we have seen in a long while ... A stunning accomplishment.
That Kind of Mother is refreshingly complicated ... Specifically, Alam’s novel asks readers to examine the relationship between how we construct and project 'motherhood' as an identity with notions of the limitations and constrictions of this identity ... It is the undertaking, after all, not the state of being that truly defines motherhood, a notion Alam captures marvelously in this book.
...thankfully for us, it’s a well-told story about people, not issues ... The book is at its strongest when Alam explores the primal intensity of being a new parent, bio or adoptive ... It’s good to be able to say that the children in this book fare better than the adults, a bright thread.
Alam further demonstrates his ability to write remarkably convincingly from a woman’s perspective, credibly capturing even the particulars of childbirth and breast-feeding, not to mention the emotional challenges of balancing motherhood and fulfilling work ... With his second novel, Alam cements his status as that kind of writer: insightful, intrepid, and truly impressive.
Alam skillfully tackles issues of race and parenthood ... While Rebecca’s career as a prize-winning poet isn’t convincing, readers will empathize with the herculean effort Rebecca puts into her vocation as a parent. The novel offers a memorable depiction of a mother’s journey as her children grow and her marriage collapses.