Allison's Book Bag

Don’t Call Me Marda by Sheila Kelly Welch

Posted on: September 20, 2012

Cover of "Don't Call Me Marda"

Cover of Don’t Call Me Marda

“I don’t get to pick a sister, silly. That’s not how adoption works. Least, I don’t think so,” sixth-grader, Marsha, tells her best friend Rosie in Don’t Call Me Marda. Author Sheila Kelly Welch writes from experience. Six of her seven children were adopted.

The back cover quotes this opinion from Recovery Week about Don’t Call Me Marda: “This charming story accurately reflects the adoption process and the feelings of those involved.” According to Sheila Kelly Welch, what is the adoption process? And what are some of the feelings of those involved?

The main character of Marsha is a typical young person, in that her biggest reason for being excited about her parents’ adoption plans revolve around her own wishes. You see, Marsha has a horse that she’s too big to ride but that she doesn’t want to sell. She hopes that her new sister will learn to ride Butterscotch, because then maybe her parents will allow her to keep Butterscotch. Another reason is that in contrast to her best friend Rosie, who has more sisters than she wants, “I’ve just got my parents and my cat.”

Marsha’s enthusiasm over the prospect of having an adopted sister dwindles when she discovers that her parents hope to adopt a kid who has been waiting—that other families might not want. Specifically, they “want a little girl with a handicap”. Suddenly, her attitude changes: “I don’t understand why my parents want a retarded kid or any other kid. Don’t they think having me is enough?”

From this point on, Don’t Call Me Marda moves forward with a smoothly interwoven blend of several plotlines. There’s the one about how Rosie is changing, now that the girls are becoming adolescents, and what effect that has on their friendship. Another plotline is about Mike, who sometimes bullies Marsha but other times acts interested in her. Then there’s the one about Marsha’s dilemma over how she’ll keep Butterscotch, who incidentally her new sister doesn’t want to go near. Most importantly, there’s the one about this new sister Wendy changes the lives of Marsha and her parents.

With regards to the adoption process, readers will indirectly learn about the role of social workers in the adoption process. Speaking of which, anyone who has ever welcomed a social worker into their home will relate to the compulsive desire of Marsha’s parents to vigorously clean their house multiple times. Readers will also learn that a home study takes a year and is a thorough report on the family. Oh, and while one should view an adoption placement as permanent, it actually takes six months before it becomes official in the courts. During this time, a family can change their mind, which Marsha more than once wishes they would.

As for the feelings of all those involved, although the emphasis is on how Marsha adjusts to having an adopted sister, she is not the only one whose feelings we get to know. For example, we see how excited but also how nervous her parents can be. When Marsha’s parents first meet Wendy, they’re right to be nervous. Wendy might be eight, but she’s also developmentally delayed and so acts much younger than her age. This means she’s not adverse to screaming or refusing to try new things. It also means she’s still learning to properly speak and so she repeatedly makes the mistake of saying Marda instead of Marsha. Now while Wendy may have a lot of maturing to do, she’s also capable of understanding many things. Wendy knows what the word “retarded” means. She also knows when ones like or dislike her.

As with Waiting to Forget, another book by Sheila Kelly Welch, the adoption process and those experiencing it are realistically portrayed in Don’t Call Me Marda. Adoption isn’t something to enter into lightly but, as Martha discovers, it can be the perfect choice for some families.

My rating? Read it: Borrow from your library or a friend. It’s worth your time.

How would you rate this book?

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