“Mister Mitch?,” Chika asks. ”Why didn’t you have babies?”
I pause. “What do you mean?”
“You said people brought you their babies, but you and Miss Janine didn’t have babies.”
I’m writing your story, Chika. What does that have to do with your story?”
Her eyelids lift like a clamshell open. She knows it had everything to do with her story.
So begins Mitch Albom’s true tale celebrating Chika, a young Haitian orphan who survived the 2010 Haitian earthquake, “whose short life would forever change his heart and teach him the true meaning of family,” as the book’s blurb suggests.
In Finding Chika, best-selling author of Tuesdays with Morrie, Albom cycles through short vignettes titled Me, You, and Us as the chapters progress. In them, he weaves the story of an engaging and curious 5-year-old child who develops a brain tumor while in Morrie and Janine’s care. Through the intense search for treatment and hoping for a cure, Morrie marvels at Chika’s sense of wonder. Just like in this choice excerpt:
I followed your lead. I ran after you sledding. I rode behind your carousel horse. I splashed after you in the swimming pool, remember” You invented a game where one pool edge was America and one was Haiti and you padded between them, bringing rice and beans back and forth saying, “Here you go” Eat them! Eat them! Yum! I don’t know where you came up with that, Chika, or why it made you cackle with laughter. But I swam beside you from country to country, and your imagination was a thing to behold.
All of which leads Albom to this conclusion: “Children wonder at the world. Parents wonder at their children’s wonder. In so doing, we are all together young.”
It’s true, Chika has survived an earthquake but, in the end, succumbs to a rare brain disease. Albom’s depicting the departed Chika blessing him with visitations from a world beyond seems to me heart-warming yet haunting. The author’s sense of loss is palpable, but not rooted in despair. In fact, Albom suggests metaphorically that a child can be both an anchor and a set of wings, ones that connects us to the here and now but can transcend reality, in an imaginative future world together, father and daughter. This story, illustrated with photos, kept me turning pages, and I believe is compelling enough to merit a 5* Amazon rating.
Mitch Albom and his wife Janine have founded nine charities in their hometown of Detroit, and since 2010 operated the Have Faith Haiti Orphanage in Port-au-Prince.
Chika Jeune was born three days before the devastating earthquake that decimated Haiti in 2010. She spent her infancy in a landscape of extreme poverty, and when her mother died giving birth to a baby brother, Chika was brought to The Have Faith Haiti Orphanage that Albom operates in Port Au Prince.
With no children of their own, the forty-plus children who live, play, and go to school at the orphanage have become family to Mitch and his wife, Janine. Chika’s arrival makes a quick impression. Brave and self-assured, even as a three-year-old, she delights the other kids and teachers. But at age five, Chika is suddenly diagnosed with something a doctor there says, “No one in Haiti can help you with.”
Mitch and Janine bring Chika to Detroit, hopeful that American medical care can soon return her to her homeland. Instead, Chika becomes a permanent part of their household, and their lives, as they embark on a two-year, around-the-world journey to find a cure. As Chika’s boundless optimism and humor teach Mitch the joys of caring for a child, he learns that a relationship built on love, no matter what blows it takes, can never be lost.
Told in hindsight, and through illuminating conversations with Chika herself, this is Albom at his most poignant and vulnerable. Finding Chika is a celebration of a girl, her adoptive guardians, and the incredible bond they formed—a devastatingly beautiful portrait of what it means to be a family, regardless of how it is made.
Do you have experience with a foster child or children?
Are you acquainted with a special needs child?
Good morning, Marian. Thank you for sharing. I don’t have any experience with foster children. A teacher at my children’s high school adopted twin toddler boys they were fostering–the boys are now in high school.
Foster parents who choose to adopt have a special brand of love. And twins, even more so–wow!
Thanks for again being Numero Uno Commenter, Merril.
P.S. I finished River Ghosts and hope to write a review soon. 😀
You’re welcome, and thank you! 😊
Hi Marian, this sounds like a moving and beautiful story. Thank you for sharing your review.
You are a busy reviewer too. A review is a special gift we can give to authors though I don’t think a public figure like Mitch Albom needs my promotion. However, I do want my readers to know about this heartfelt story. Thanks, Robbie! ;-D
I particuarly like this quote: “Children wonder at the world. Parents wonder at their children’s wonder. In so doing, we are all together young.” It sounds as though Mitch and Janine gave Chika a good life, despite how short it was.
Liz, I’m not surprised the quote you picked up on resonated so well. I think poets like you (and writers in general) have to have a sense of wonder to cut through the mundane to reach the sublime. Thanks for checking in today!
Echoes of the British Romantic ideal!
Hi Marian – I’d read The Five People… and Tuesdays w/Morrie a long time ago. I didn’t know what Albom’s newer books were about. This one sounds great. He’s right, the way children wonder about the world helps adults see things in a new way. Thanks for sharing your review!
You’re welcome, Barbara! You and I give special gifts to authors — and to our readers — when we care enough to write a review. 😀
I’ve loved his books, gotta find this one. Oh wow, tears fill my eyes and heart. What a beautiful story and challenge Mitch and Chika leave us–and you too. Thank you!
The book is very readable with short chapters and a sort of other-worldly feel. You will enjoy this one.
Thanks, Melodie! 😀
P.S. I loved the video. So moving.
What a wonderful story. I will look for the book for sure. Thank you..
Though I like to support indie book stores, I got this one from the library; otherwise I’d go broke buying books. You will enjoy this memoir, I promise, Arlene! 😀
Good morning Marian, as you know Pablo and I raised our three grandchildren when our daughter was in jeopardy of the state taking custody of them. Our fear of them going to strangers and or being separated we opt to step in. Samantha was 6 months old, Demetri 11/2 and Imani was turning 4. I praise God that we had the blessing to have them. She had 4 more children. The three younger ones were adopted by the same couple who married late. We are close to the children. We’ve kept them all close. They are wonderful to our grandchildren we get together often i praise God for them.
Our other grandchild Spencer lives with the only father he knows. We don’t see him but I pray always for Gods protection over him. Thank you for bringing this to your blog. These children need to be in the forefront. Samantha is 18 today cares for everyday as i go through my chemo .. Imani is working in city working with the secretary of state. Demetri chose a different course in life and is waiting a court date to know his future. I pray that what the courts decide that it would be to help him reflect on all his teachings of God and that he would turn his life back to the Lord..
Thank you for catching me up with news of your grandchildren. I do remember meeting Imani at my mother’s funeral, and perhaps Demetri also. You and Pablo will receive stars in your crown for sharing your special kind of love.
For Demetri, I claim the verse in Proverbs 22:6
“Train up a child in the way he should go: and when he is old, he will not depart from it.”
Blessings to you, Gloria! 😀
I agree i hold on to that promise from God.
Thank you. Samantha was there also. They so loved everything in Pennsylvania.
Yes, I remember her and how beautiful she was. . . probably still IS! 😀
I read Tuesdays with Morrie and will admit I wasn’t charmed by it. Everyone loved it– except me. I have almost no experience with children other than being one. This might not be the book for me, but thanks for the review.
Nevertheless, Ally, you are kind to comment! 😀
I read Tuesdays With Morrie and loved it. I’ve also read other books by Mitch Albom, all very good. This one sounds amazing. The fact that the writer shows how other people can change us and our view of the world, makes his books so remarkable. Children certainly can make huge changes in us and in the world. Thanks for this review.
You are welcome, Darlene! Your comment reminds me of the truth in Isaiah 11:6
“The wolf also shall dwell with the lamb, and the leopard shall lie down with the kid; and the calf and the young lion and the fatling together; and a little child shall lead them.”
Children rule in the peaceable kingdom–and in our hearts, as your own books attest, Darlene! 😀
That sounds like a wonderful book, Marian! During our Congo days we got to know a one legged little boy who came to the translation office every morning to get a coin so he could buy himself a baguette, probably his meal of the day. I have a beautiful story about how he taught us what true generosity means.
Elfrieda, I want to hear that story. I hope you will tell us sometime; maybe you already have on your blog. I can see a collection of Stories from the Congo with true life lessons from you. Thanks always for showing up here! 😀
That sounds like quite an amazing story and an amazing little girl. I can’t imagine how parents deal with losing a little one and can write about it with joy. 🙂
Certainly, Mitch kept a journal or diary as he was going through this ordeal. He probably couldn’t write about the events when they were still raw. But perhaps after the passage of a few years, telling the story helped him heal. Thanks for reading and commenting again, Jenn! 😀
Thanks for the review, Marian. I’m going to read it. Sounds wonderful!
Yes, you will appreciate the story. You can read it in short spurts–or in one fell swoop. As you wish, Joan. Thanks! 😀
Mitch Albom is the perfect author for this story, in which he is so involved and wrapped up, like in Tuesdays with Morrie. Even more so in this book, it seems like. But the premise is heartbreaking as well as beautiful. I would be incredibly sad after reading this book, Marian. How did you feel?
Liesbet, good question. I had to think a while before answering your comment.
Because I had read the blurb, I knew Chika would have a short life, so I wasn’t surprised by the ending. Mr. Mitch takes his readers through the hard times and the heartbreak, but there are frequent breaks of wonder and awe. One way he deals with his grief, I think, is structuring the narrative with imagined “visitations” from Chika after her departure from this life. He does that with the “Us” parts of the memoir. Overall, I think he felt fortunate to know her, a special child who seemed wise (i.e. emotionally precocious) for her years.
As i mentioned, Mitch and wife manage an orphanage, Have Faith Haiti Orphanage in Port-au-Prince, where they probably see the ebb and flow of life. I got the impression he wants his readers to enjoy their loved ones while they can because life is fragile. At least, that’s what he and Janine did with Chika. Thanks for probing a little deeper, Liesbet. 😀
Thank you for your in-depth answer, Marian. This all makes sense to me!! <3
Great! ((( )))
Such a moving story . Aren’t they amazing people , thank goodness there are people like them that have so much compassion, my heart goes out to them .
I have no experience of fostering children or children with special needs but I do know that by October I shall be a Grandma 🤭😉
Glory, hallelujah! First the wedding, and then the baby carriage. I am SO happy for you, Cherry. Our children were married in the 1990s, but we didn’t have grandchildren until 2003. In the meantime we had to be appeased with a variety of dogs and kitties while they were in graduate school in Chicago.
Nothing like grandchildren though. I suspect you will be a doting Nana, as I am.
Again, congratulations, Cherry! oxo
Wow! This book sounds powerful. Biology is only one factor in making a family. It’s more about creating an environment where love abounds. Thanks for sharing, Marian.
I’m glad this book hit the spot for you. Morrie’s trademark is compassion and connecting with people, which shows in his books’ popularity, including the one I read first about someone older: Tuesdays with Morrie.
Thanks for checking in today, Pete. ;-D
Mitch’s story reminds me of an old quote from The Art of Racing in the Rain. ““He died that day because his body had served its purpose. His soul had done what it came to do, learned what it came to learn, and then was free to leave.” In her short years, Chika lived and loved life and brought the meaning of family and love for a child to Mitch and his wife. It brought the deepest joy to all of them; and now they will always carry that gift with them. It’s very moving Marian, thanks for sharing.
You’re welcome, Melanie. Thanks so much for sharing the quote, a new one for me. The sentiment reminds me that I’m grateful I’ve had a long and (mostly) happy life, for which I am thankful. 😀
Your review moves me to tears, Marian. This must be the most beautiful and heartwarming of books. Your response to Liesbet tells me even more about the heart of the book. Thank you for the blessing of this story.
Elaine, you are kind to comment and tell me about your strong feelings. How you handled your grief with the loss of your beloved Vic has parallels to Mitch’s story. Thank you for responding and for letting me know that you even read the comments–wow! 😀
Thanks for the review. I’d read about the book and thought, to be honest, I’d cry during most of it, so I didn’t read it. But that’s the wrong way to think. Albom knows how to merge sad and beautiful, loss and joy into the wonder of life. I’m reading a book by Susan Cain called Bittersweet: How Sorrow and Longing Make Us Whole, and I’m starting to get more comfortable with the pain I feel when I see others in pain. There is a beauty in that, if we all can touch into the deepest part of our soul. Albom certainly does that. And yes, I worked for 10 years tutoring special ed teenagers with disabilities – physical and other, and they taught me so much about finding positivity in every day.
Your comment is brimming with all the things I need to hear this Saturday morning: a tip on a new book ,Susan Cain’s Bittersweet, and insight from your own experience. I didn’t know about your working with teens with disabilities. Wow–your resume is growing right before my eyes.
About sorrow and joy co-existing. I remember Rick Warren saying recently, “The week I Became a NYTimes Best-selling author (The Purpose-Driven Life) was the very week my wife was horribly sick with cancer, and I remember holding a receptacle for my wife’s nausea as the news of hitting it big as a author came on the the TV.” I guess, if we can’t look for the positive within the rubble, we won’t find it ever, a lesson I have to learn and re-learn . . . and re-learn. Huge thanks for the tips and the encouragement here, Pam! 😀
Oh, Marian. I am learning and re-learning that lesson so many times. I’d rather not get the lesson, but it’s part of life. This is why Cain’s book on the Bittersweet is so helpful to me, and to all of us, as we deal with the sweet and the bitter, as you example (can I use “example” as a verb??) with Rick Warren. Hugs to you.
I’ve put Cain’s book on hold in the library, thanks to you, Pam! ((( )))
Let me know what you think, once you get it and read. xo
I’ll let you know. Maybe I’ll even review it! 😀
I am sorry about my late appearance but I truly was fighting on all fronts with my computer I saw this article last week and wanted to read it. I believe it is in the hard and difficult times that we learn what love really is.
The book sounds fabulous and I have added it to my TBR List. You have done a wonderful job with the review and it convinced me that I need to read about Chika.