I just finished a novel which has an interesting twist on the concept of a replacement child: LaRose, by Louise Erdrick.
I’ll try not to give away any major spoilers… it is a great read!
The story centers upon two Native American families and a tragedy which unfolds. While out hunting a man accidentally kills his best friend’s five year-old son. Filled with remorse and grief, he and his wife spend a night in their sweat lodge. They come to the heartbreaking conclusion that they need to follow an old Native American custom, and they give their own beloved five year- old son, LaRose, to the bereaved family. The grieving family takes him in to raise him as their own child.
There are so many interesting parallels between the novel and the traditional role of a replacement child. Replacement children are often expected to fill the void of the lost child and to help heal the wounds of grief. LaRose was named after ancestors who were known to be healers. He takes on a healing and protective role with his new family as well as with his family of origin.
La Rose is portrayed in a loving and heroic light. While the book focuses primarily on his role as a helper it is also heart wrenching to read of his experience as a five year who is uprooted to live with a new family; he yearns for his birth parents and siblings. As time passes his new parents allow him to visit with his family of origin, and he begins to be shared between the two families. Eventually his birth mom decides that she wants to keep him home with her again, but he refuses, as he has become too invested in helping the bereaved family; he is protective of them, trying to save the bereaved mother from her depression and taking on a protective role with the older sister.
It was fascinating to read about this ancient Native American custom in which a child is gifted to another family as a replacement, and to see that the role had similarities to the clinical literature about replacement kids. LaRose was expected to help heal the loss, and fill the void. Unlike some replacements, he is seen in a beloved light, and he is not negatively compared to the deceased as an inadequate replacement; he is in more of a gift child replacement role. The book only glancingly explores his needs and experience. We can wonder what possible psychic cost he may pay for being displaced from his family, and for shouldering the weight of worry and care for his bereaved parents and sibling.