Adoption Journeys: Parents Tell Their Stories

Overview

Adoption Journeys is the first book to chronicle adoption from the viewpoint of a broad mix of adoptive parents, including married couples who struggle with infertility and single women, a gay couple, and a foster family who are all adjusting to the changing definition of family in contemporary society.

The book's purpose is to help people understand the often difficult but always miraculous journeys adoptive parents travel to create their families. One of the fathers ...

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Overview

Adoption Journeys is the first book to chronicle adoption from the viewpoint of a broad mix of adoptive parents, including married couples who struggle with infertility and single women, a gay couple, and a foster family who are all adjusting to the changing definition of family in contemporary society.

The book's purpose is to help people understand the often difficult but always miraculous journeys adoptive parents travel to create their families. One of the fathers interviewed in the book stated: "...adoption is like a great ride on a roller coaster. It's frightening, exhilarating, and uncertain, but the outcome was so positive for us. We took part in something so moving; you don't get many human experiences like that."

The poignant stories in Adoption Journeys will allow the reader to better understand and appreciate the exacting and often complex journeys taken by adoptive parents; they will increase admiration for adoptive families while dislodging prejudices about adoption; adoptees will better understand the experiences adoptive parents go through; and finally, those considering adoption will be inspired and encouraged to begin their own journeys.

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What People Are Saying

Frank Deford
With a marvelous mix of stories about some disparate families who have adopted, Carole S. Turner has told that story that the Defords know so well-about parents and children coming together, despite all the pain, all the obstacles. She shows so beautifully how sometimes it is but the hope of love that conquers all." (Frank Deford of Sports Illustrated, NPR's Morning Edition, author of Alex: The Life of a Child, and Chairman of the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation)
Jacqueline Olds
A riveting set of stories taken directly from the parents who have the stories of their children's adoptions in recent memory. Each story is unique and unforgettable-offering hope and solace to anyone going through with an adoption themselves. I highly recommend this books to anyone, individual or professional, curious about the feelings provoked by the long process of adoption. (Jacqueline Olds, MD, Psychiatrist, Professor of Psychiatry at Harvard Medical School, co-author of Overcoming the Loneliness of Everyday Life)
Sherry Turkle
The stories Turner recounts are very different in their detail, but in sum, they provoke the question: 'Must this journey be so hard?' A beautiful and disturbing, yet joyous book. I couldn't put it down. (Sherry Turkle, Professor of the Sociology of Science at MIT, author of Life on the Screen)
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780935526530
  • Publisher: McBooks Press
  • Publication date: 4/1/1999
  • Pages: 236
  • Product dimensions: 6.28 (w) x 9.29 (h) x 1.02 (d)

Read an Excerpt

Chapter 1 Mark and Allison: An open adoption

"It seemed wise not to have any secrets; secrets breed dysfunction in a family, and I thought, Perhaps if there are no secrets, there won't be dysfunction. If my child knows from the very beginning about his birth parents, maybe it won't be a big deal. It will be a fact of life, like having freckles. If there's any kind of adoption that makes sense to me, it's open adoption."

Mark and Allison are a devoted couple who struggled with infertility for seven years. Their infertility took a tremendous toll on them as individuals and as a couple. It forced them to carefully examine their fears, motivations, and expectations about having a family. This introspection led them to conclude that honesty-to each other and to their child-was of primary importance to them. When they began the process to adopt a child they decided that an open adoption was the only kind that made sense for them. Their experience was not easy, yet despite their difficulties, they remain persuasive advocates of open adoption. Allison was the second daughter born into a suburban family in New York in the early 1950s. An exuberant dark-haired woman, Allison speaks candidly, intensely, and incongruously of a troubled childhood and tragic events in her family.

"My mother was a well-known artist," she began. "When I was about nine months old she had a nervous breakdown, which marked the beginning of her fairly severe mental illness. I was sent to live with my father's mother, and my sister was sent to our other grandmother. When I was three-and-a-half, I went home for about six months, but my mother was unable to handle me and sent me back to Nana's. I went back and forth so many times that to this day I have trouble with transitions and hate to say good-bye to people."

Allison's parents divorced when she was a teenager; she chose to go to boarding school. When Allison was in her senior year of high school, her mother committed suicide. "It was not completely unexpected," said Allison. "She had made several previous attempts. But it was obviously a shock." As a result of this tragedy, Allison spent several years in therapy and delayed starting college.

Mark, by contrast, had a happy childhood with loving parents and an older brother. A confident man with a round, friendly face, Mark sports a trim beard. His career in public relations makes him quite approachable. A failed first marriage left Mark a bit wary; nevertheless, two years after meeting Allison he proposed.

"He asked me to marry him on Christmas Day," remembered Allison. "A diamond ring was at the bottom of my Christmas stocking. He had tears in his eyes and couldn't speak when I opened it. I said, 'Does this mean you want to have children?' He just nodded. I said, 'Can we start trying right away?' "I was twenty-six years old when we got married. We were living in Philadelphia, and I still had a year-and-a-half of college left to finish a nursing degree. We agreed that I would finish school before trying to get pregnant; then Mark wanted me to work for a year, but I said, 'No, I've wanted to be pregnant for a long time. We've been married almost two years, we own a house, I'm almost thirty, and my clock is ticking.'" Mark recalled, "When we started trying to get pregnant we had wine in front of a crackling fire-we wanted it to be memorable."

Allison added, "The first month there was great romance and wonder. I was sure I was pregnant and was shocked when my period came. After two or three more months it no longer felt like we were making love; we were trying to make a baby. I began to feel a sense of urgency. After nine months, I saw my first infertility specialist."

Thus began a stressful period of trying to pinpoint the reasons for their infertility and of experimenting with different ways of overcoming it. "We got sucked into the game," said Mark.

First Allison had a laparoscopy, which showed no endometriosis. Then she took a fertility drug, which caused large cysts to grow on one of her ovaries. When medication failed to eliminate the cysts, they had to be surgically removed. Allison said, "I talked to my former doctor about what I was going through, and he tried to urge me to work with somebody else; he didn't think the specialist was someone I should trust. But I was totally focused on this doctor; he had helped a good friend of mine get pregnant, and I wasn't interested in finding anyone else."

After three years Allison quit her job at the hospital and became a visiting nurse because of the more convenient schedule it offered. "I only had to work one weekend a month and no nights," explained Allison. "I really wanted to concentrate on getting pregnant. My new job had a different health care plan, which covered infertility but forced me to switch doctors. My life became a series of two-week cycles: menstruating, waiting to menstruate, waiting to find out if I was pregnant. It was awful, a really miserable time. I was feeling angry, discouraged, hopeless, helpless, furious... I couldn't believe this [having a baby] would be denied to me. I thought, I've been through a crazy mother, a suicide, a mixed-up childhood; I made it through, I got married, I'm happy, and now I can't have a baby? I was in complete shock."

Mark talked about his side of things. "For me it was a depersonalizing, dehumanizing experience. It wasn't about having a child together; it was all about science-giving samples, very clinical. I felt like a machine who was expected to produce sperm on demand; it was never when I was in the mood. I went through a couple of episodes of sperm donations that were horribly insensitive to me. They put me in a small bathroom, and nurses were standing outside laughing and talking to each other. It was humiliating."

Five years into their quest to conceive, Mark and Allison went on a fishing vacation with friends. Allison had gone in for a pregnancy test on the morning they were leaving; the nurse told her to call about two-thirty for the results.

"By mid-afternoon we were driving through a sleepy little town in New York," said Allison. "I pulled off the road to use a pay phone. For the last hour I had been thinking, Could it be? Well, maybe this time... I called and was put on hold. Then the nurse came back and said, 'Allison, I have wonderful news for you. You're pregnant!' When I came out of the phone booth I saw Mark standing next to our car. I screamed at the top of my lungs, 'We're pregnant!' I was hysterical! People were looking at me. Back in the car Mark said, 'This can't be!' We kept looking at each other and saying, 'I can't believe it!'"

Mark continued, "I instantly became lightheaded. It was surreal, bizarre. All of a sudden I was transported into a world of fantasy. While Allison went out fishing with our friends, I sat with a book but couldn't concentrate; all I could think about was having a child. This was great! The next morning we crashed. Allison began to bleed and miscarried. It was horrible. I tried to put the best face on it-this wasn't meant to happen, et cetera. I believe that nature selects and that pregnancies end for a reason. That's the intellectual side. But this was emotional. Allison was shattered; I felt protective of her. Our poor friends had to watch the whole thing unfold."

Allison described her emotional state, "I cried all the way home. I was a mess; it was a horrible crash."

"We came out of this experience thinking, We did it-there's hope! We got pregnant, by God, and we'll do it again," said Mark. "But it never happened again, and that's when it became really dehumanizing. I think we continued for two more years. It kept dragging on and gradually felt more and more invasive. Allison's body was like a pincushion. I was giving her shots all the time. We'd take a month off and then come back to try again. It was not good for our relationship. It raises hell with a normal sex life. There was a growing sense of desperation, which started to invade our lives." Allison added, "I went from being a happy-go-lucky, free-spirited, joyous person to someone who was barely able to present a veneer of her old personality; beneath that veneer was a seething rage because I was unable to have what came so easily to everybody else. I reached the point where I couldn't go to baby showers; I had good friends who got pregnant and I could no longer talk to them. It was too painful. Then I would feel guilty and ashamed for having those feelings.

"Eventually I was able to admit to myself, I don't want to feel like this anymore. I don't want to become the person I am becoming. I decided to try one last thing, GIFT [gamete inter-fallopian transfer]. This is a procedure where they fill you with Pergonal and make as many eggs as they can. Then they aspirate the eggs off the ovary and mix them with selected sperm, inject the two parts together back into your fallopian tubes, and leave the rest to nature. I knew this had a better rate of success than in vitro fertilization, and that the success rates after three attempts dropped off dramatically. That's why I decided to do three.

"I told Mark that this was the final procedure I was willing to undertake. He said, 'If it doesn't work, then we'll adopt.' I seized on that idea and thought, Fine, I'm not sure I'm ready to adopt, but we'll get there if this doesn't work. The first two attempts failed, and on the third try, as they were putting me under general anesthesia, tears streamed down my face. The anesthesiologist asked, 'What's wrong?' and I said, 'This is it. If this doesn't work, I'm done. I can't do this anymore.' "When the third attempt failed I went to see my doctor. He started talking about the next attempt, but I said, 'No, there's no next month. I'm done. I came to say good-bye and thank you.' He asked me, 'What are you going to do?' I said, 'I don't know, but I can't do this anymore. I can't believe that I'm saying I'm ready to stop, but I can't do it again.' He said, 'Well, you can always come back.' But I said, 'No, I need closure here. I need to end this process because I just can't take it anymore. Physically I can't take it, my marriage can't take it, I'm done.' I felt relieved but terribly sad.

"The ultimate reason why I stopped our infertility treatments was that it was going to consume our marriage. It was going to eat it up and spit it out in a form that would not be acceptable to either of us. It was clear that it had already begun to do very destructive work. I was resentful. It also prevented us from dealing with any other problems in our marriage. All we dealt with was the infertility. There was no room for any other problem. I realized that you can't put other issues on hold forever and ever. We needed to have time to deal with other things, or we wouldn't survive." "It was Allison's decision to stop trying," added Mark. "She'd had enough;

she was punched out. Her body was a mess. She'd had raging hormones for five years with all those chemicals flowing through her, and she was emotionally destroyed."

"Right away I tried to talk to Mark about adoption," said Allison, "but he said, 'Let's take six months off, relax, and stop thinking about all this.' We took six months off. It was then that I began to grieve the loss of my fertility. And during that time I also thought, I need to give equal time to the idea of not having children. I need to try on childlessness, which was how I saw it. I didn't see it as childfree; I saw it as childlessness. Mark was able to comfort me a little bit, but not to the extent that I needed. During this time some of our marital struggles began to surface. I wondered, Is this going to work? Is there anything left of this marriage? It felt like a shell. Seven years of having one sole focus had consumed me. I was not balanced, and I did not have perspective on it.

"Somehow the six months stretched into a year, and I was just about ready to bring up the subject of adoption again when suddenly Mark's brother was killed in an accident. His death brought us back together in a way that nothing else could have. I really identified with Mark the night that he got the phone call, and I watched him free-fall. Witnessing his reaction made me realize there was nothing I could do except to be there when he hit bottom and help him pick himself up again. I felt more needed, which was gratifying and drew us closer. I felt we were more of a couple and there was more unity."

Mark explained, "My brother's death was a turning point for me. It shattered me and the whole family. Initially his death froze me in my tracks on every level. But several months later I was able to look at his death and say to myself, There's a gift here that he's giving me if I choose to see it, and that is that life is terribly short (I was forty-four at the time), and if you're going to have a child, you'd better get going! "For a lot of men, letting go of the desire of leaving progeny is a real issue. I had a dream about having a male child. I'd lost my brother, and my father was an only child; there was a sense of the family line dying out. I had a fantasy of witnessing the birth of my own child. I used to play over and over in my mind the scenario of the birth of my biological child-it was a really clear image for me. It was going to be a very big moment in my life; I had all that set up. I had to let go of that fantasy. Everybody has a lot to let go of in the adoption process.

"Allison convinced me to go with her and talk to an adoption counselor. I went in there and raged for an hour about infertility. I said, 'I've just been through all these years of doctors controlling my life, and now I'm supposed to turn it over to lawyers and agencies? I don't think so!' To his credit, the counselor just listened to me and then said, 'Absolutely. Those are very legitimate feelings. You're right and you're entitled to those feelings.' He let me go and I just punched myself out. When we walked out I felt very agitated but agreed to return the following week.

"On the way to the next appointment I turned to Allison in the car and said, 'I don't know why, but I don't feel the same way I felt last week. I think I'm ready to talk about adoption and go to work on it.' The counselor (who had been adopted) was very skilled and empathetic and helped me cross through. It was cathartic."

Because of his brother's death, Mark's family decided not to celebrate Christmas that year, but his parents invited Mark and Allison, together with their daughter-in-law and granddaughter, to go on a cruise with them. That Christmas was the tenth anniversary of Mark and Allison's engagement, so they decided to have a private celebration of their own during the cruise. On Christmas morning Allison opened a gift from Mark. It was T. Berry Brazelton's book Touchpoints. Inside the front cover Mark had written the following:

Will our little person be born this year?
Boy or girl; how strange to contemplate, how scary to await. May we embrace his or her life with all the passion, intellect, patience, understanding, and love that we can summon. It doesn't get much more serious than this. Love,
Mark
"He also gave me another diamond ring," said Allison. "We went up on deck and told his parents that we were going to adopt a baby. They went crazy and we went crazy! That was how we got there.

"When we arrived home I bought several books on adoption and began to devour them. I realized that I had the preconceived notion that kids who were adopted are screwed up because they were given away, that someone didn't want them. I thought that someone who was adopted must always have a desire to know who their parents were and what they looked like. The books I read about open adoption really made sense to me. They gave me a new perspective about adoption and how it could be different; it didn't have to be the old secretive way.

"It seemed wise not to have any secrets; secrets breed dysfunction in a family, and I thought, Perhaps if there are no secrets, there won't be dysfunction. If my child knows from the very beginning about his birth parents, maybe it won't be a big deal. It will be a fact of life, like having freckles. If there's any kind of adoption that makes sense to me, it's open adoption."

For Mark the concept of open adoption was not easy to embrace initially. "Open, to me, was an open concept," said Mark. "I was ready to consider an open adoption, but I wanted to control the parameters of how open it would be. I didn't like the idea of anyone coming and taking the child away or feeling that they could drop in anytime. I wasn't going to have my life invaded like that."

Allison contacted a friend who worked for a West Coast law firm specializing in adoption. This firm placed group ads in national publications on behalf of people interested in adopting. Prospective parents were required to fill out detailed questionnaires and work with local adoption agencies to do a home study and fulfill the legal provisions of their state. Within a short time, Allison and Mark had completed their forms and found a local agency to work with. The law firm also asked them to produce a brochure describing themselves, their lifestyle, their hopes for their child, and so on.

This brochure, complete with photographs, would be mailed to any candidate who had responded to the group ads. The firm pooled a group of people, bought ad space, and divided the cost among the participants. A typical ad would read, "Adoption: Ready, willing, and able couples wish to be loving family for your newborn. Make this a year of love and opportunity for your baby. Please call our attorney at the following 800 number. Void where prohibited." Calls would come in from birth mothers, who would be asked the date of the ad they were responding to. In that way the firm knew which group of brochures to send. Monthly bills for the law firm's services included extensive reports regarding the responses received for each ad and a tally of the brochures mailed to birth mothers.

Mark elaborated, "What we were really paying for was their ability, based on more than ten years of experience, to screen out women who would probably change their minds, who weren't really serious about giving their child up for adoption, who had various other problems, or who imposed conditions that could hinder the desired outcome. The law firm sifted out the variables for us. We were told they had a success rate of more than ninety percent.

"I wrote our brochure for the law firm to mail out to birth mothers. I regarded it as my ultimate public relations assignment. There's no tougher selling job than trying to convince someone you've never met to give you their child. I started by looking at a lot of other people's brochures. Most of them seemed to dwell on the material things a couple could offer a baby. We didn't like that approach and didn't want to be chosen for those reasons. We're not wealthy, we're comfortable. We wanted to be chosen for the type of parents we felt we would be."

"The law firm warned us that it would probably take six to nine months before we got a lead," said Allison. "They defined a lead as talking on the phone with a birth mother who had requested a conversation with us. We were told that talking with a birth mother did not mean everything would work out. It was just a first step. We started advertising on the Fourth of July weekend in 1994. We put our real names and real phone number on the brochure.

"Responses started to come in, and we received reports from the law firm saying, for instance, '9/23 screened lead from birth mother Kimberly of Virginia in response to USA Today ad run 9/20-client brochure sent; 9/25 screened lead from birth mother Alicia of Georgia in response to TV Guide ad run 9/19-no brochure sent because birth mother has religious preference.' It was good to get all this information. We knew our ads were going out and people were responding to them. The firm had a policy not to send brochures to any woman who was less than six months pregnant; they didn't want to get hooked up with a birth mother who might change her mind." Mark and Allison began their home study with a local adoption agency. "We didn't have the best relationship with our social worker," recalled Mark. "She wasn't very sensitive. She knew her business, but she didn't convey warmth. Maybe we were needy, but she should have realized that. She was unavailable for a lot of our questions. The woman was basically a cold fish.

"I think everybody has this notion that a social worker comes to your home looking for dust, and of course that's not what happens. I didn't find it terribly threatening. This process did not pull us apart the way infertility treatments had. But my response to things over which I have no control can go one of two ways: I can go insane and try to control it, or I can wait for the situation to play itself out. I tried for the latter. We had a great summer; we went on a nice vacation and tried to relax." On a Sunday night in January, six months after they had begun to advertise for a baby to adopt, Mark and Allison were reading in bed and were just about ready to turn out the lights when the phone rang.

"Mark answered the phone," said Allison. "I heard him say, 'No, no...' and he hung up. I asked him who it was. 'It was a wrong number; somebody named Charlene calling collect.' A few minutes later the phone rang again. Mark sounded really annoyed when he answered. Then I heard him say, 'Wait-wait!' He turned to me and said, 'Allison, run in the other room and pick up the phone. This is a birth mother! She says she wants us to have her baby!'

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Table of Contents

Foreword xiii
Acknowledgments xv
Introduction xvii
1. Mark and Allison: An open adoption 3
2. Zachary and Hannah: Adopting a four-year-old Romanian boy 36
3. Gina and Tom: Two miracle babies 54
4. Meredith: An adult adoptee builds her family 77
5. Rachel and Scott: A baby girl from China 93
6. Cal and Lee Anne: Foster parenting and adoption 112
7. Bob and Lilly: The adoption roller coaster 135
8. Enzo and Eric: Two dads 152
9. Maureen: Transracial adoptions 181
10. Tessa and David: An international family 196
11. Carrie and Alex: A baby boy from Lebanon 220
Afterword 237
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