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.