One day last summer two surprises arrived—one in my inbox and one by snail mail. The first was an email from my wonderful editor Tara Weikum, who shared the beautiful cover art for my sophomore verse novel with HarperTeen, THE NAME SHE GAVE ME. The second was my original birth certificate, which I also saw for the first time.
I like to think it wasn’t a coincidence, and that the universe was letting me know the truths in this book of my heart deserved to be seen.
In THE NAME SHE GAVE ME, Rynn, an adopted sixteen-year-old girl, lives on a small garlic farm in rural Maine. I love how the artist, Julia Feingold, incorporated the garlic design around the words in the title.
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While I was writing the book, the state where I was born passed legislation allowing adoptees to request a copy of their original birth certificates. Until then, adoptees only had access to the birth certificates with the names of their adoptive parents and their ‘new’ name.
I knew the name my birthparents had given me but seeing it on an official record was a very powerful experience.
Here is the heading from my “pre-adoption” birth record.
This wasn’t the first time part of my past was delivered to me by the US postal service. One July day I came home to this certified letter.
Years ago, I had registered with the New York State Adoption information Registry. I had no idea then that I had a biological sibling, but when the state opened the registry to biological siblings, there was a match!
Three weeks later, this letter arrived, with the name and address of my biological sister. (My sibling’s name and address hidden for her privacy)
When I finally got to speak to my sister on the phone, I found out I had not just one, but FIVE biological siblings.
In the author note for THE NAME SHE GAVE ME, I write:
Suddenly I had five younger siblings—three sisters and two brothers— who’d known about my existence their whole lives. They’d searched for me for years, even contacting the adoption agency, but were falsely told the records had been destroyed in a fire. There were many surprising discoveries and coincidences. One sister and I had gone to the same college. Another sister had the same name as my daughter. And we grew up in towns as close as eight miles apart but never crossed paths.
Rynn’s story is not my story, but my personal experiences informed the book. I went into foster care at nine months old and after living in several different foster homes, was adopted three years later.
A photo of me from when I was in foster care.
In THE NAME SHE GAVE ME, Rynn was adopted as a baby and one of the few things she knows about herself is that her original name was Scheherazade. She doesn’t want to wait until she’s eighteen to be able to access her records. An online search provides the first clues to her past.
When Rynn learns she has a younger biological sister she never knew about, who was kept by their birthmother, she tries to find her. It turns out that her sister, Sorella, is in foster care only two towns away. But when Rynn and Sorella meet, Rynn realizes her search for her sister has put Sorella in harm’s way.
As she learns more about her own history, Rynn uncovers truths that are both heartbreaking and beautiful. Yet each new thing she learns, even those that are difficult to hear, gives her back a little piece of who she is and where she came from.
One of the most meaningful parts of writing this book was all the people who generously shared their stories and experiences with me— adoptees, birthmothers, adoptive parents, foster parents, kinship placement providers, foster children—as well as child advocates like guardians ad litem and a child protective lawyer.
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In some cases a piece of information turned out to be just what I needed to move forward with writing the novel; in others cases it sent me in unexpected directions. But every conversation found a place in my heart and mind, as I hope Rynn’s story will with its readers.
Meet the author
Betty Culley’s debut novel in verse Three Things I Know Are True, was a Kids’ Indie Next List Top Ten Pick, an ALA-YALSA Best Fiction for Young Adults Nominee, and the 2021 Maine Literary Book Award Winner for Young People’s Literature. Her first middle-grade novel Down to Earth was inspired by her fascination with meteorites, voyagers from another place and time. She’s an RN who worked as an obstetrics nurse and as a pediatric home hospice nurse. She lives in central Maine, where the rivers run through the small towns. Visit her online at www.bettyculley.com.
About The Name She Gave Me
A heartbreakingly beautiful novel in reverse about adoption, family, friendship, and love in all its many forms, perfect for fans of Robin Benway and Jandy Nelson, from the acclaimed author of Three Things I Know Are True.
Rynn was born with a hole in her heart—literally. Although it was fixed long ago, she still feels an emptiness there when she wonders about her birth family.
As her relationship with her adoptive mother fractures, Rynn finally decides she needs to know more about the rest of her family. Her search starts with a name, the only thing she has from her birth mother, and she quickly learns that she has a younger sister living in foster care in a nearby town. But if Rynn reconnects with her biological sister, it may drive her adoptive family apart for good.
This powerful story uncovers both beautiful and heartbreaking truths and explores how challenging, yet healing, family can be.
Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date: 06/21/2022
Age Range: 13 – 17 Years
Filed under: Uncategorized