Cover image for Losing Isaiah
Losing Isaiah
1st ed.
Publication Information:
New York : Hyperion, c1993.
Physical Description:
374 p.
Geographic Term:


Material Type
Call Number
Item Available

On Order



Two loving mothers come into painful emotional confilct with each other as Selma Richards, a former crack addict rebuilding her life, tries to reclaim her son Isaiah after Margaret Lewin, an upper middle-class woman, has adopted him. Lit Guild.

Reviews 4

School Library Journal Review

YA-Selma Richards is single, black, illiterate, and living in Brooklyn. Margaret Lewin is married, white, educated, and has an Upper West Side Manhattan address. The common thread? Selma sold her child to Margaret in infancy for $25,000. Now she has turned her life around and wants to make a home for her son. She's kicked drugs, gotten a job, saved some money, and joined a literacy program. But most important, she's black, like Isaiah, and she is his birth mother. Margaret has seen the boy through a difficult infancy, provided him with what appears to be a stable home for two-and-a-half years, nurtured and loved him, and made him an indispensable part of her family. And what is best for Isaiah? That is the question in this thought-provoking, nonjudgmental book.-Pamela B. Rearden, Centreville Regional Library, Fairfax County, VA (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Publisher's Weekly Review

Recent headline-making custody cases are echoed in this contrived, yet provocative book. Selma Richards, black, illiterate and drug-addicted, sold her premature baby boy Isaiah to Margaret and Charles Lewin, an affluent white couple, for $25,000. Two and a half years later, Selma has turned her life around: she is drug-free, employed, learning to read--and she wants her son back. But Isaiah is now a cherished part of the Lewin family and they will not give him up easily. Using the connections of her sympathetic reading tutor, Selma hires a powerful attorney, and a bitter custody case begins. What is in Isaiah's best interests? A strong cultural identity? Emotional and material security? Mystery writer Margolis ( Disappearing Acts ) turns a sharp eye on the legal system, the media and the less savory side of family life. Selma's pompous and self-serving attorney has his own reasons for taking her case. Charles unwisely begins an affair with a seductive co-worker. And Selma is pressured into adopting a deceptive life style. The message of the book is manipulatively delivered, some passages seem extraneous and the frequent switches in point of view are a blow to cohesion. Nonetheless, the story is generally engrossing and, to its credit, offers no pat answers to complicated issues. Literary Guild and Doubleday Book Club selection. (Oct.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Kirkus Review

Margolis attempts to follow the success of novels like The Good Mother and Kramer vs. Kramer with this domestic melodrama featuring a two-year-old black child, his birth mother from the projects, and his white, well-to-do adoptive parents--but with stock characters and an aloof, schematic writing style, his intriguing premise arrives still-born. Margaret Lewin loves her adoptive son, Isaiah, even more passionately than she does her natural daughter, Hannah, probably because of the unique, magical way Isaiah joined the family. A volunteer baby-holder in a Manhattan hospital, whose job was to lavish physical affection on abandoned, drug-addicted infants, Margaret fell in love with tiny Isaiah's determination to get what he needed--first through unceasing screaming, and now, at nearly three, through tantrums that could cause Attila the Hun to cower. Leaving Isaiah to the care of a children's center and an au pair while she pursues her career as a photographer's representative (and her husband, Charles, pursues a leggy female employee at his own graphic-arts company), Margaret alternately worries over possible lingering aftereffects from Isaiah's prenatal drug addiction and swoons in relief at having rescued the little boy from life with a crack-addicted, illiterate, utterly negligent mother. Little does Margaret know that over the past two years Isaiah's mother, Selma Richards, has found religion, weaned herself from drugs, and obtained a job as a nanny on the Upper East Side in the fierce hope of reclaiming her lost son. When Selma files suit for custody, the lives of all concerned begin to crumble in the cruel light of media coverage, while the best interests of Isaiah himself are nearly forgotten in the clash of emotions. Shifting from Margaret's to Selma's to Charles's to Isaiah's and other points of view, Margolis (False Faces, 1991, etc.) prevents the reader from identifying deeply with any one side, making this more an abstract intellectual exercise than a compelling work of fiction.

Booklist Review

Isaiah is a bright, lively, two-and-a-half-year-old living in Manhattan. His adoptive father, Charles Lewin, owns his own graphic design firm. His mother, Margaret, is a photographer's agent. Isaiah's older sister, Hannah, attends an exclusive private school, while Isaiah himself spends part of his day in preschool and the rest in the company of an au pair. In alternating chapters, Margolis contrasts the privileged life-style of the Lewins with that of Selma Richards, Isaiah's real mother, a recovering addict who, at 29, is trying to learn to read. When Selma decides she wants Isaiah back, she enlists the aid of her literary tutor, Arthur Golderson. Golderson sees the case as a way to generate publicity and make a name for himself, since the Lewins are white and Selma and Isaiah are black. Complicating the case for Selma are her illiteracy, her history as an addict, and the fact that she has very few resources with which to support a child. On the other hand, Isaiah's adoption was not legal; and the Lewins' picture-perfect home life is marred by Charles' affair with a coworker. There are no easy answers in this novel, no heroes or villains. The author's way of depicting his characters' complex motivations helps keep the story from becoming sentimental or melodramatic. ~--Mary Ellen Quinn