Books·Canadian

Older Sister. Not Necessarily Related.

Older Sister. Not Necessarily Related. is a memoir by Jenny Heijun Wills.

Jenny Heijun Wills

Jenny Heijun Wills was born in Korea and adopted as an infant into a white family in small-town Canada. In her late 20s, she reconnected with her first family and returned to Seoul where she spent four months getting to know other adoptees, as well as her Korean mother, father, siblings and extended family. At the guesthouse for transnational adoptees where she lived, alliances were troubled by violence and fraught with the trauma of separation and of cultural illiteracy. Unsurprisingly, heartbreakingly, Wills found that her nascent relationships with her family were similarly fraught. 

Ten years later, Wills sustains close ties with her Korean family. Her Korean parents and her younger sister attended her wedding in Montreal and that same sister now lives in Canada. Remarkably, meeting Jenny caused her birth parents to reunite after having been estranged since her adoption. Little by little, Jenny Heijun Wills is learning and relearning her stories and those of her biological kin, piecing together a fragmented life into something resembling a whole.

Delving into gender, class, racial, and ethnic complexities, as well as into the complex relationships between Korean women ⁠— sisters, mothers and daughters, grandmothers and grandchildren, aunts and nieces ⁠— Older Sister. Not Necessarily Related. describes in visceral, lyrical prose the painful ripple effects that follow a child's removal from a family, and the rewards that can flow from both struggle and forgiveness. (From McClelland & Stewart)

Older Sister. Not Necessarily Related. is Jenny Heijun Wills's first book.

Older Sister. Not Necessarily Related. won the 2019 Hilary Weston Writers' Trust Prize for Nonfiction.

Why Jenny Heijun Wills wrote Older Sister. Not Necessarily Related.

"I hope that people understand the diversity of adoptee experiences. There are these comfortable narratives that we have about adoption, including transnational adoption, but there are multiple experiences of that. I hope that people also understand that it's more complicated than how we might imagine it to be. I have my own opinions as to whether it is positive or negative or somewhere outside of that binary. It's not about making a judgment one way or another. It's about understanding some of the context when making those decisions or when believing those narratives or when challenging those narratives.

I hope that people understand the diversity of adoptee experiences.- Jenny Heijun Wills

"It might become apparent that there isn't too much in this book about my Canadian family. I didn't want to dwell on my childhood in Canada or some of the racial isolation I felt because I feel like those stories are ubiquitous. There are many brilliant adoptee writers who can talk about those things, but it is unique to be a reunited adoptee and to have sustained a relationship with your first family, despite cultural and linguistic differences. I wanted to focus on my Korean family, especially the women in my life. It's not that I wanted to speak on behalf of them, but I think there are certain voices in stories about adoption that are more audible than others."

Read more in her interview with CBC Books.

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