For most of this year I have had a copy of Even Tough Girls Wear Tutus at my desk. I read it immediately when the author, Deborah Jiang Stein, sent it to me, and then shared it with everyone I could. I mailed copies to my daughters, gave it to board members and tweeted that everyone should read it. I also enthusiastically promised that I would write a review. But for some reason, I have simply not been able to write that review. And now I know why.
But let me back up a bit. Even Tough Girls Wear Tutus is Ms. Stein’s very personal story of her journey from being born in a federal prison in West Virginia to a heroin addicted mother, to her life in Seattle as a multi-racial child in a Jewish family in the 60s, to her rebellion and travels as a young adult, to the quiet but vital return to her “birth country” – the first 12 months of her life in prison. The book at first read is her personal diary. Read again, though, it is quixotic, raw, metaphoric, harrowing and magical.
And that seems to be why I stopped trying to review Even Tough Girls Wear Tutus. What more could I possibly say, but “read this book!” Then I had the honor of meeting Ms. Stein. She graciously accepted our invitation to speak to the 250 adoption recruiters gathered at the Wendy’s Wonderful Kids Summit in Columbus this past May. She shared her story in person and was engaging and funny and compelling. Before meeting her, it seemed like reviewing her book could simply not give it the weight she and her story deserved. But as she spoke and moved the audience to laughter and tears, I realized that, though very personal, this is also a story shared by the nearly 2.3 million children, most under the age of 10, who also have parents in prison. And for those of us without that shared experience, the story still speaks to the very human qualities in us all of resilience, acceptance, redemption and love.
Read Even Tough Girls Wear Tutus. In fact, read it twice. You will recognize so much behind the words, because there is a tough girl (or guy) and a quest for home in us all.