The Adoption, a graphic novel by written Zidrou (learn about him here) and illustrated by Arno Monin is a different sort of ‘coming of age” tale. Here, Gabriel, a 75 year old retired butcher in France, must feel his way though the changes when his son Alain, and daughter-in-law Lynette adopt Quinaya, a tour-year-old from Peru, in the wake of a devastating earthquake there.
Initially, the story looks like an ‘old curmudgeon initially resists adorable toddler who teaches him how to love again’ tale. That assumption vanishes with the first panels that gently point out the awkward self-congratulations (they call it ‘heroic’) or xenophobia by some characters about the adoption. The slow build establishes Gabriel in the context of his friendships, his family, his sense of loss after retiring from his butcher store, his arms-length relationship with his son, and how little Quinaya gradually influences and changes him into a more loving individual.
However, a series of hints build to a startling turn of events midway, taking the tale into completely uncharted territory. As the rest of the book progresses, it delves sensitively and imaginatively into Gabriel’s feelings and actions about the changes, and ultimately leads him to re-evaluate his relationships, and his thoughts and feelings about aging, fatherhood, love, vulnerability, and his relationship with his son, Alain. (“Was I a good father?” is his plaintive, repeated question throughout this tale.)
The slow unfolding of the relationship between Gabriel and the little Quinaya – and all the changes Gabriel experiences – is sensitively done both in words and pictures. The illustrator takes an almost cinematographic approach – a bit like a French movie (but this is a modern France, with immigrants participating fully with the main characters). Panels sketch interactions sensitively, and focus on small details to make a point or convey a mood. The older people are presented wrinkles and all; the locations for the story are fully-realized illustrations with a distinct sense of place. The story is a family drama told with imagination, charm, and honesty, focusing on an older man who demonstrates that it’s never too late to learn. It’s a different sort of coming of age story – a ‘coming of (old) age story.