What Momma Left Me by Renee Watson ARC
Bloomsbury Children's Books/Bloomsbury USA
IQ "The next time you look at a cake with all that pretty frosting I want you to think about what it took to get it to look that good. [...] It's the same with life. You never know what not-so-sweet things have happened in someone's life-even the life you think is perfect." Grandma pg. 197
Serenity's mother is dead, her father has disappeared and she is now living with her grandparents and going to a new school. However tragic and trying circumstances result in Serenity beginning to question her faith and the faith of her grandparents. Serenity's younger brother, Danny, isn't talking to her as much as he used to and she's worried about the choices he's making.
Right away you know this novel is going to put a unique and heartbreaking twist on the motherless child story. Serenity's father killed her mother. Serenity and Danny know that he did it but they think maybe he doesn't realize that he actually KILLED their mother and that's why he hasn't come back. They keep hoping their father will come back for them. I was taken by surprise by what happened concerning their father. *SPOILER* (highlight to read) I thought he was in jail and that's why he couldn't contact them. Then I thought he would end up in jail. I wasn't expecting the suicide.* End of spoiler. There are signs that Danny is turning into his father, always angry and heading down the wrong path. There are also signs that Serenity is turning into her mother, passive and a keeper of secrets. The book focuses mostly on Serenity but since she is so close to her brother we get to see his growth (the good and the bad) clearly. Something I really loved was the relationship between Serenity and Jay. Jay is the 8th grade version of a "bad boy", but he's complex and their relationship (if you can call that) is refreshingly realistic. they don't go too fast for 8th graders and Serenity is not always comfortable going out with a "bad boy."
The cover is a bit misleading. It's absolutely adorable. Almost too adorable due to subject matter and that the book is for middle grade readers. The cover makes it look like something for elementary school students. However I love having Serenity on the cover holding a cake :) I wasn't expecting the book to have such a Christian bent but it wasn't that big deal, especially since Serenity is questioning her faith which is something everyone does. Each chapter is headlined by a word or two from the Our Father. I don't think this added anything to the story, it would have been nice if it connected to the content in the chapter.
What Momma Left Me has a sweet cover that hides some not so sweet content that comes with life. At times Serenity acts young for an 8th grader, but for the most part she is believable and someone we can all relate to, regardless of age. Her family is well developed, she lives with her grandparents and they have a notable presence in her life. We also learn a lot about her parents, Danny and her friends. Every character has a back story. The story has a good message about certain secrets, we think that we are helping people by keeping the secrets, but really we are hurting them by keeping quiet (obviously this doesn't apply to all secrets). Serenity loves poetry and each chapter starts off with one of her poems or the meaning of literary devices used in poetry. A not so subtle way of teaching kids about poetry but it's enjoyable and I learned a lot from it. I'm looking forward to reading more by Renee Watson, she wrote a nice and original story.
Disclosure: Won from Charlotte at Charlotte's Library. Thank you so much Charlotte!
PS Here's a poem from the book. Serenity is using the anaphora (had no idea what that was until this book) "I Believe"
I believe love is the medicine that cures fear.
I believe my grandparents' love is like a healing balm.
I believe habits are prison bars that hold you back from freedom.
I believe some secrets need to be told.
I believe in second chances.
I believe change is possible, but I know change isn't easy.