Deborah Jiang Stein and JaeRan Kim: Truth and Fiction in Adoption Stories

Deborah Jiang Stein was born in a West Virginia prison to a heroin-addicted mother, and then placed in foster care at around 1 year old. When she was about 3, she was adopted by a Jewish couple and raised in Seattle.

JaeRan Kim was left on the steps of a town hall in Korea at around 1 year old. She was placed in an orphanage, and then was adopted by a white family in Minnesota, when she was about 3 years old.

Today, Deborah is a published author and accomplished speaker. Her next book is due out in March; you can learn more about Prison Baby here. It has already received wonderful early reviews. She is the founder of the nonprofit The unPrison Project, which serves women and girls in prisons. She’s working on another memoir, a young adult novel, and a collection of short stories. Deborah travels frequently to women’s prisons to share her story, and to bring confidence and hope to incarcerated mothers. She has written vividly and poignantly about her relationships with her prison mother and her adoptive mother, both of whom have passed away. 

Deborah Jiang Stein

Deborah Jiang Stein


JaeRan is currently finishing up her doctoral degree at the University of Minnesota. She works at the Center for Advanced Studies in Child Welfare, where she manages the Permanency in Adoption Competency Certificate (PACC) program, an advanced training certificate for child welfare and mental health professions. Her Ph.D. work examines research on internationally adopted children with disabilities. She has done a search for her Korean family, but has not found them. You may well be familiar with her via Harlow’s Monkey, which provides amazing amounts of adoption- and foster care-related information from around the world.


Deborah and JaeRan both have written, with grace and clarity, about separation, abandonment, loss, and healing. They are smart, perceptive, and warm. Each is a writer, speaker, and researcher, able to make connections, fascinated by the world and its possibilities. Each is an avid reader.

I’m also an avid reader, and frequently find adoption-related themes in what I read. I just finished Donna Tartt’s brilliant novel The Goldfinch, about a young man who loses his parents and forms new relationships to cope with his losses.

The loss of parents–and the theme of orphans and adoption–appears frequently in fiction for children and adults. Sometimes it’s the fairy tales of Cinderella, her deceased parents, and her stepmother. Sometimes it’s Superman, Harry Potter, Anne of Green Gables, or Oliver Twist. The theme of adoption runs through children’s literature right into adult’s: Barbara Kingsolver’s Bean Trees, Anne Tyler’s Digging to America, Khaled Hosseini’s And the Mountains Echoed, John Irving’s Cider House Rules, and many others. 

What a treat, then, to read an interview-conversation between Deborah and JaeRan about adoption themes in fiction. Deborah begins the interview with this question: “JaeRan, as a scholar and researcher in adoption and child welfare, what role do you believe fiction can play in the real-life intricacies of the adoption world?”

Read the rest of the interview here, on Deborah’s blog.

I’m also happy to share this important information: For her doctoral dissertation research, JaeRan is looking to interview adoptive parents of internationally adopted children with disabilities. She writes:

“Adopting a child with disabilities can be both challenging and rewarding. Parents who have adopted children from outside the United States with mental health and intellectual/developmental disabilities sometimes struggle to find appropriate pre-adoption education and/or post-adoption support to help them manage the challenges of parenting a child with a disability.”

I’ve written extensively about the need for better pre-adoption and post-adoption resources. This is a wonderful opportunity for families to be heard. You can read more about the study on JaeRan’s site here.


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