REQUIRED READING: In a setting where working mothers are rare, novelist and single mom Debra Monroe’s adoption of a black baby puts her On the Outskirts of Normal…
Debra Monroe writes about the complications, and gifts, of transracial adoption.
Monroe doesn’t waste time justifying her family to others—her care and clear-eyed focus on her daughter make their own argument. It’s absolutely clear this is the life she chose. “The sprawling mess of life is why we need stories,” she writes, “a fleeting sense of order so we return to life with the unproven but irresistible conviction our mistakes and emergencies matter.”
—Amy Benfer, Barnes & Noble Review
Infused with humor and compassion, by turns hilarious and heartbreaking. What shines throughout the book is Monroe’s love for the little girl who transformed her life.
—Chitra Divakaruni, Houston Chronicle
Now here’s a book that makes the typical new-mommy memoir look like a discourse on a day at the beach. Single and living in a small Texas town, white novelist and teacher Monroe adopts an African American newborn and takes on racists (“Is that a crack baby?”), her own and her daughter’s illnesses and attendant misdiagnoses, rotten men, and the reasons the author and her own mother are attracted to them. A former bad girl and the survivor of an abusive marriage, Monroe mulls over how she can reconcile her domesticity (she collects vacuum cleaners) with her love of sex—“Madonna Reed,” she calls herself at one point. But in this seductively fearless book, practicality precludes excessive navel-gazing: Monroe has a house to run and clean, a child to support, and a responsibility not to be, as she catches a black woman saying on TV, “one of those white women whose black daughter has bad hair.”
A wild vine of a book… Outskirts conveys piercing, urgent sensations: fear, hope, exasperation, regret, incredulity, the sting of past failures and, most of all, the writer’s abiding faith in adoptive motherhood as the last great chance at love and redemption and normalcy in this life.
Monroe is a loveable narrrator…[but] sweet, intelligent Marie positively steals the show.
—Kansas City Star
While Monroe may not unravel all the riddles of race by the end of this immaculately written memoir, what she does reveal is a far greater truth about the love of a good mother.
Monroe and [her daughter] Marie may not have set out to teach the world something about love breaking barriers, but you can’t read this book and not root for them, just as you won’t be able to read this without hoping for the day when race will be a non-issue.
—Dallas Morning News
Monroe’s writing is beautiful without being showing or melodramatic. She knows how to get out of the way of a naturally dramatic tale.
—Forth Worth Star-Telegram
A single woman’s spunky memoir about the hazards and rewards of building a home and family outside a small Texas town, this tale of trials and triumph is an engaging, poignant read.
Monroe delivers compassion, keen wit, and acute honesty. She shares her fear with us, and, in doing so, reveals her own bravery.
—Foreword, Summer 2010
High-velocity verve and gripping insight matched in rare form by the level of compassion—anyone who cares this much about getting a little girl’s hair just right is a truly endearing person. Flaws and question marks, local places, very particular people, wit and weariness and astonishment at the myriad ways a life unfolds—inviting readers not only to the comfortable “outskirts of normal” but the genuine heart of it all.
—Naomi Shihab Nye
Having driven across the country to see her brand-new adopted granddaughter, Debra Monroe’s mother says the first thing that comes into her head. “I knew she’d be black, but not this black.” There are many possible reactions to this, but Monroe simply says, “Mom, there’s a blank in the baby book called ‘Grandma’s First Words.’” The sly, dry humor of this—the offering of the second chance, the reminder that everything, even the mistakes, will be written down—tells you everything you need to know about Monroe’s approach to life, and memoir. Monroe’s generosity of spirit and excellent word choice never fail her.
—Marion Winik, author of First Comes Love
Debra Monroe’s On the Outskirts of Normal is a modern story with a generous dose of old-fashioned values at its core. The adoption of a beautiful black baby girl by a white single woman shouldn’t still be news in today’s America, but it is, perhaps especially so in a small Texas town. Told in a voice that is feisty, wise, unsentimental, humorous, candid, and consoling, Debra Monroe’s memoir of love that was lost, but now is found, will entrance its readers, who will surely admire the author’s ability to transcend negative or befuddled reactions to her and her daughter as she inaugurates a whole new conversation about the true meaning of family. This book is the real deal: both a literary triumph and a triumph of the heart.
—Madeleine Blais, Pulitzer Prize winner and author of In These Girls, Hope is a Muscle
Sometimes the barren years bloom, flourishing atop old scar tissue, and give each of us a new heart. This, then, is the promise of Debra Monroe’s extraordinarily poignant, powerfully written memoir, which charts one woman’s tenacious journey into strength and unlikely motherhood and unexpected joys. She gathers along the way the brave yet painful knowledge of what love costs. Monroe is an unflinching commentator on self as well as society, a myth-buster as well as a trailblazer in an America that is neither post-racial nor post-sexist, and I suspect the significance of this book will only grow in value, a cultural benchmark, in the years and decades ahead of us.
—Bob Shacochis, National Book Award-winning author of Easy in the Islands and Domesticity: A Gastronomic Interpretation of Love
Compelling and full of pain and honesty, On the Outskirts of Normal wrestles with the messiness of the search for insight in the wake of trouble. Debra Monroe approaches the subject of race, always fraught with landmines, with humor and humility. Full of stylish shifts and comic, edgy observations, Monroe’s story reveals much about parents who are present and parents who are absent, about good and bad caregiving, and about the stability of the places we call home.
—David Haynes, author of Somebody Else’s Mama and The Full Matilda
Any narrator who repels an intruding raccoon by pelting it with books of poems has my full attention. Debra Monroe has written a wise, unsparing testament to the fierceness and fragility of love.
—Michael Perry, author of Population 485: Meeting Your Neighbors One Siren at a Time and Truck: A Love Story
Debra Monroe forges not only her charming “family against the grain,” but a remarkable canniness about motherhood and its twin perils, grief and love.
—Karen Brennan, author of Being With Rachel