Review Blog

Sep 30 2019

What Momma left me by Renee Watson

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Bloomsbury, 2010, 2019. ISBN: Bloomsbury, 2010, 2019. ISBN: 9781681199498.
(Age: 14+) Recommended. Themes: Family; Friendship; Abuse; Overcoming difficulty; Resilience; Christian Faith. Renee Watson is an Afro-American writer drawing on her own community experience to create a story that weaves the dreadful circumstances of a murder with the Afro-American experience of Christian life and practice within a Baptist church family. The central character is a young Eighth Grade student, Serenity, and with her younger brother Danny, they have experienced the worst family tragedy. The story reveals their need to recover after the significant family trauma, which destroys their family and challenges their own identity and security. Their grandparents are involved in a Pastoral role in a Baptist church, and Serenity and Danny become reconnected with them and make new friends, when they move to restart their lives. Attending Christian events, volunteering their time and challenging poor choices, and attending counselling become part of the journey to recovery. They carry with them baggage from their past, with attendant tears, and they must also learn how to redefine themselves. Their new friends have the potential to lead them astray, but the influence of their grandparents shines through.
The traumatic events and difficult circumstances that are addressed are quite confronting for a young reader, but there are moments of lightness scattered through the book, along with delightful pieces of poetry and other explorations of literary devices. These are school-based English tasks, that headline the chapters and reveal Serenity's internal dialogue. The cultural experience of an Afro-American experience of Christian faith in a church community will be foreign to most Australian readers, but there are some delightful and perhaps quirky features of the service-oriented family life within this context. Those without any Christian heritage will perhaps find some of this faith-based expression to be unusual. The author has included risky behaviours for some of the young characters that include some illegal behaviour, and in combination with discussion about incestual abuse as well as family violence, and the keeping of unhelpful secrets, there are some very complex and mature issues that are dealt with within the lives of the main characters. Resilience and character formation are woven through these difficult issues, but sometimes the author seems to have aged them beyond their stated age.
Recommended, with some reservations, for readers aged 14+.
Carolyn Hull.
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