If you have been following me for a while you know by now: I am a big Mitch Albom fan. Over the past few years, I have reviewed books such as “Tuesday’s With Morrie,” “The Next Person You Meet In Heaven,” and my personal favorite, “The Magic Strings of Frankie Presto” (“The Five People You Meet In Heaven” dates back to pre-blog times and will always be first on the list.) “Finding Chika” was recommended to me by my best friend I was determined to join the conversation. (For lack of better terminology, my book FOMO is real.) I found a signed copy at “Bookends” in New Jersey over the holidays and its been burning a hole in my bookshelf ever since.
Most of Mitch Albom’s books are entirely fictional, some are loosely inspired by his passions, interactions with others, personal dreamscapes. “Tuesday’s With Morrie” and “Finding Chika” are different though- They let us into Mitch’s life, allow us to walk in his shoes, and the details, the emotions that he pours onto paper, resonate beyond measure.
The main star of this novel is Chika Jeune, a young Haitian girl who was brought to Mitch’s orphanage in 2013. Born just three days before the devastating earthquake in 2010, her infancy was spent in extreme poverty until her mother passed away giving birth to a baby brother. Although Chika was left in her godmother’s care, it became difficult to feed and support so many children. Chika was therefore invited to become a resident at “Have Faith Haiti Mission & Orphanage” in Port- au-Prince.
She was a beam of light at the orphanage, all of the children loved her. Mitch described her as “brave and self- assured, delighting the other kids and teachers.” Her vibrancy and courageous spirit were put to the test at a young age, however, when it was discovered that she had DIPG, (Diffuse Intrinsic Pontine Glioma) a rare brain tumor. Mitch brought Chika to the only doctor in Haiti with an MRI machine once symptoms began to surface; He was told that Chika’s condition was beyond any treatment that Haiti could offer. Mitch and his wife therefore made the decision to bring her back to Detroit, Michigan, for treatment in the States.
Mitch and Janine were in their fifties when they brought Chika home- They realized too late in life that they wanted children and then couldn’t have any themselves. The orphanage kids became theirs though, and from that, they became parents to five-year-old Chika, a rare gift that life bestowed upon them unexpectedly. She became a permanent part of their household, and their lives, as they toured the world in search of a cure for her inoperable tumor. Although the disease took her entirely too soon at just seven years old, Chika’s boundless optimism and curious, playful attitude taught Mitch and Janine about the joys of parenthood, the lessons that come along with raising children. Interwoven with his insights, Mitch conveyed the heartbreak of watching Chika suffer while capturing her sweet spirit and youthful resilience.
“I realized families are like pieces of art: They can be made from many different materials. Sometimes they are from birth, sometimes they are melded, sometimes they are forcibly constructed, and sometimes they are merely the confluence of time and circumstance, mixing together, like eggs being scrambled in a Michigan kitchen. But they are all real. Chika was a daughter to a number of people. And for the last two years, she was ours, gloriously ours…We did not lose a child. We were given one.”
“Finding Chika” is a moving tale of loss, but also highlights treasures found in the most unlikely places. I loved this book and once again, Mitch moved me to a state of reflection with my own life. Once again… his lessons linger.
Final Score: 4 “Finding Chika” reads like a memoir but sneaks up on you, taps you on the shoulder and reveals its “self-help” qualities. The story is touching and many of Mitch’s insights are profound, definitely warrant pause and personal reflection. If you have read “Tuesday’s With Morrie,” this is a great continuation of Mitch’s journey, a zoomed in view of how he transforms his lessons learned. Not everyone can start an orphanage in Haiti, not everyone can provide top notch care to those in need, but everyone can identify with a deep desire to contribute to the greater good, can recognize the gifts that children bestow upon us, can understand the feelings associated with love and loss, with the beauty in all that remains.
BEST FOR: In true Mitch Albom form, this book is dynamic but easy to read. The messaging is powerful. I’d recommend this book for anyone.
NOT GOOD FOR: Whenever I fill out this section, I think to myself, “Would my husband like this book?” He is a man of very distinct tastes, especially when it comes to the written word. (I can say with confidence that he favors two genres and tolerates, maybe one more.) Mitch Albom isn’t exactly an author that he’d be sprinting to the bookstore for, but the book is universal enough to intrigue even the toughest literary critics, as the takeaways are very relatable. I truly think that it’s a good book for all types of readers.
IF THIS BOOK/ AUTHOR WAS A HIGH SCHOOL STEREOTYPE: Chika was the “Life of the Party,” always laughing, singing, dancing, looking to play hide and seek. I feel like she is definitely worthy of the title, and the best version of it.
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