Review of “What Momma Left Me” by Renee Watson

This is not a sad book, but the trials and tribulations it describes are not happy occurrences. Like the powerful book Pull by B. A. Binns (see my review here), this is another book about a boy and a girl who must go live with their grandparents after the father kills the mother. Also as in Pull, the mother had been physically abused for some time, with the father assuring the male child that this is one of the ways in which “manhood” is demonstrated. Whereas Pull features teens a bit older, the two kids in What Momma Left Me are in the seventh and eighth grade. Also, the grandparents in this book are very involved in the church; in fact, the grandfather is the pastor of the Restoration Baptist Church. This book can probably be categorized as “Christian fiction.”

Each chapter title is a part of The Lord’s Prayer, which is cleverly dovetailed to reflect what is going on the life of the characters. (For example, in Chapter One, titled “Our Father,” we learn about the father of the kids.) The narrator is Serenity Evans, age 13, who is ostensibly writing this as entries in a diary.

As the story begins, Serenity and her brother Danny have just moved in with their grandparents, where they come to learn that men (like their grandfather) can actually dispense love instead of just fear, and where they come to terms with their losses:

“Memories of my momma pop in my head at the most unexpected times. Like when I sing the lyrics to a song I didn’t even realize I knew. Momma is a song that I can’t forget. Her melody comes to mind and I realize that traces of her song are still here.”

Serenity has a crisis of faith when things keep going wrong; she thinks God is cruel and has forgotten about her and her friends. After pretending too many times to be sick so she doesn’t have to go to church, she finally confesses her internal conflict to her grandmother. Her Grandma has the perfect answer for Serenity, explaining it to her in a way they can both relate to: Serenity’s mother’s fabulous red velvet cake. Her Grandma explains: you would hate to eat just the oil, or just the flour, or just the raw eggs. But in the end, when they all come together, something beautiful emerges. Life, Grandma says, is like that too.

Discussion: In a bit of twist on the concept of “whitewashing,” we have a wonderfully sweet cover featuring an adorable young black girl holding a cake. The color of the protagonist is not whitewashed at all, but one might say that the plot is, in the sense of glossing over or covering up. This is a book about domestic violence, child sexual abuse, drug trading, and drug use. Yes, it is all soft-pedaled to be appropriate for a middle-grade or tween audience, and it is furthermore couched in a great deal of religious explanation and inspiration.

Evaluation: Uplifting story about how to cope when bad things happen in your life told by a very likeable young girl in a Christian context. It is promulgated as a young adult book, but to me, the writing seems more characteristic of middle grade books.

Rating: 3.5/5

Published by Bloomsbury Books for Young Readers, 2010


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11 Responses to Review of “What Momma Left Me” by Renee Watson

  1. BermudaOnion says:

    It is sad that books like that are necessary for young people these days. I totally get what you’re saying about the cover – it makes it look like the book is sweet.

  2. Staci says:

    I see it every day where I work…and yes, it is important for kids to have access to books where the character has went through some of the same things they have experienced. It really helps them articulate their feelings, and to also understand that they’re not alone.

  3. Barbara says:

    I’m not crazy about the Christian theme, but I can see where this book might be very helpful to a child from a troubled home. I can’t remember there being books like this when I was a child, so I’m glad to see authors writing them now. It must be very difficult to be a child these days, even in the best of homes. The outside world keeps creeping in the door.

  4. Darlene says:

    I agree that it’s a sad world we live in that these types of books are needed at all. It’s good though that there are books that let young people know they aren’t alone. I wouldn’t mind reading this one even though I’m sureit would make me sad.

  5. JoAnn says:

    I know these books help children in similar situations, but it’s a sad commentary on the current state of affairs that we even need them. 😦

  6. Aarti says:

    I definitely think the cover is very misleading for the subject matter of this book! I am also sad that books like this are necessary, but props to Bloomsbury for publishing a book that probably is much more important than it is profitable. I veer strongly away from religious fiction, but I can see how this book would be very helpful to someone else.

  7. Nymeth says:

    I’ve been very curious about this ever since it won Nerds Heart YA. The themes really appeal to me, so I’ll have to pick it up at some point. I completely agree that the cover is misleading, though!

  8. This seems like a sweet book. Interesting that it seems more MG than YA..

  9. Vasilly says:

    Wow. Thanks for highlighting this book. The publishers probably put a sweet cover on it so they wouldn’t scare potential readers away. Great review.

  10. Julie P. says:

    Wow! Sounds like a unique idea behind the story plus it deals with some serious issues. Great review.

  11. stacybuckeye says:

    The cover sure does look innocent enough, doesn’t it?

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