Book Review: ‘Accidental Sisters: The Story of My 52-Year Wait to Meet My Biological Sibling’ by Katherine Linn Caire

I try to imagine myself learning, at age 52, that I have a sister. I think about my own sister and how important that relationship is to me. I think about how much life there is in 52 years — how much identity is formed, how awkward it becomes just making friends as an adult — and I can’t imagine it. Surely it would be confusing and scary and thrilling, but what would that even mean?

This is the premise of Katherine Linn Caire’s memoir, Accidental Sisters: The Story of My 52-Year Wait to Meet My Biological Sibling (Books Fluent). A self-proclaimed happy adoptee from Des Moines, Kathe — who was heretofore uninterested in anything to do with her biological lineage — decides in her 50s that she should look into getting medical records for her own children.

(She says, “[E]xperience showed me that if children were not happy with their adoptive parents or their family life in general, they would be more likely to seek their birth mothers … This was my myopic view of adoption as a child growing up with adoptive parents.” She recants this idea a few times, aware of the privilege and naivete of this take.)

Kathe’s story is full of fateful moments, the first of which is her sudden impulse to procure a medical history for her children. “I found myself staring out the window into our very dark, quiet front yard and suddenly the thought came to me: our precious three daughters were approaching … adulthood, and they only had exposure to 50 percent of their medical history.”

Divine intervention is a prominent theme, which is fitting for a story that started with a Catholic girl in a Catholic hospital giving up a child for adoption at Catholic Charities. Religion itself is not a major theme, though religion did connect the biological family to the adopted family. These instances are catalysts for near-misses and odds-defying revelations for Kathe. “[B]y that point in my life I knew that ideas that ‘come out of nowhere’ tend to have a distinct purpose,” she said.

The narrative is chronological, almost entirely exposition, and starts with Kathe’s adoption, including her parents’ application letters to the adoption agency. There are anecdotes about her early childhood and then her search for medical information. It’s an error in the redaction of one of the documents Kathe receives which sets off her journey to learn more about her biological mother and, eventually, to meeting her sister.

Kathe’s story includes watching her parents age, receiving the support of her family, extreme moments of synchronicity and a lot of introspection and exploration of her birth mother’s experience.

While the book’s subtitle assumes the climax of the narrative would be the meeting of two estranged sisters (and I would say that it is), that meeting is about halfway through the memoir, and is followed by further odd surprises from research, building the relationship between the sisters and cultivating a spiritual connection with the Maurer family. (Maurer being her biological mother’s maiden name.) Kathe’s journey (and her sister’s) are not that of self-discovery, but of an ongoing quest to learn one’s self.

This article was originally published in Little Village’s April 2023 issues.