Sarah Sentilles was accustomed to letting her husband, Eric, decide most things: what to eat, where to live, why bringing a child into this beleaguered world was a bad idea. This suited her, until Sarah interrogated her own desires and realized she wanted a baby. They decided to become foster parents, hoping for a baby who was available for adoption. Not far into her heart-searing memoir, Stranger Care: A Memoir of Loving What Isn’t Ours, the complications begin.
After weeks of classes, interviews and home inspections, the call comes late one night: Can they take a toddler, found alone in a house not far from theirs? They want an infant, they remind the social worker. As hard as it is, they say no. More calls come in the following weeks, more desperate children they have to turn away as they hold out for a baby. Finally, Coco arrives, three days old.
ALSO IN BOOKPAGE: Sarah Sentilles shares the 11 things that drive her writing craft.
Coco’s troubled mother, Evelyn (a pseudonym), has three other children, and she wants Coco back. She considers Sarah and Eric enemies, and they see her as a threat. While reunification with the biological parent is the stated goal of the state, the courts and social workers, these foster parents hope it will never happen. Evelyn’s progress toward stability and sobriety is slow, hampered by poverty and a lack of resources. As Coco grows and thrives, so does the love of her foster family. A collision seems inevitable. Sentilles wonders, “Which of us is the debris?”
If Stranger Care were merely a horrific indictment of the foster care system, it would be a hard read to endure. But there are deeper lessons here, as Sentilles navigates an intractable system managed by overwhelmed, all-too-human souls. Along the way, the ever expanding love between Sarah, Eric and tiny Coco redeems every page, amplified by the fragile bond growing between Sarah and Evelyn. Both mothers discover their common ground, and they learn to share it.
With a sharp eye for the details that fill their days with joy, counterweighted by the sorrows that bring the couple to their knees, Sentilles uses the sheer power of her writing to lift their story above the failures of flawed adults and to remind us of the human heart’s limitless capacity for hope.