What Momma Left Me
Serenity Evans and her brother Daniel have not had an easy life. Their father was abusive emotionally and physically and their mother, while loving and attentive, allowed it to continue – up to the point where it finally cost her her life. After her murder, their father abandons them to fate. Now, Serenity and Danny live with their grandmother and grandfather, who is pastor of theRestorationBaptistChurch. As if that wasn’t enough to deal with, Serenity has to move to a new school and start afresh. New friends, new (bad boy) crush, and new dangers are in store for her. Serenity finds her faith in God, in herself, and her family challenged in new, unexpected ways.
Hanna Jarvinen is a beautiful, biracial teenager who is a bit of an enigma. Her loving (white, Finnish) father, who she clearly adored, has passed away. She has been living with her aunt who barely tolerates her. Having had enough, Hanna runs away to live with the (black) mother whom she has never met and by all appearances wants nothing to do with her. As if that wasn’t enough, Hanna has been diagnosed as manic-depressive, bipolar, and when she doesn’t take her meds? Well, things get kind of crazy, with hallucinations being one of the tamer of her symptoms. Soon she discovers that she will actually fit in quite well in her mother’s home town ofPortero,Texas, a town where the strange and unusual are actually pretty commonplace.
Serenity Evans is a fantastic character. She is a strong African-American teen who is not only a great example for other African-Americans; she is a great example for all young teenage girls. She faces extraordinary challenges with an inner-strength that, while faltering in a typical way for her age, is enviable. She acts like a typical teenager in her struggle to do what’s right while staying true to herself. When her brother gets mixed up the wrong crowd, Serenity is torn between wanting to help and protect her brother or keep silent like he so desperately wants her to. Her story feels, sadly, true to life and I can see this book being a valuable resource to teens living through similar experiences.
Hanna is a lot like Serenity in that she is struggling to find a place where she can feel safe, stable, and loved. Unlike Serenity however, she does not have an adequate support system to help support her in her journey. She is left to fend for herself. Her father has died. Her mother wants nothing to do with her. She is in a new, strange town, where she has no friends or even acquaintances. And she has a mental illness that she is not mature enough to manage on her own. After making a bargain with her mother to fit in within two weeks or move out, she has to make friends and make them fast. All of this makes her a very unreliable narrator.
I read What Momma Left Me first, followed by Bleeding Violet. Upon finishing Bleeding Violet, I immediately said What Momma Left Me was the better book. I had a hard time with Bleeding Violet. When I first started reading it, I just wanted to put it back down. I couldn’t connect with Hanna. There were many scenes in the book that I had a very large aversion to, and still do in some ways. It is a violent, graphic book. There is violent death, sex, torture, and I could find very little to love about it. Yet, as I’m writing my review, I realize there is something to love about this book. And it’s Hanna. She’s had a hard life, something I can identify with, and she’s just trying to survive. A lot of fantastical things happen to her in the course of the story and I don’t know how much of it I can reliably believe of her. It could all be in her head. And I delight in narrators like that, always have. And I love a book that makes me think, which Bleeding Violet certainly did.
But then I have Serenity to think of. And Serenity is awesome. The things she goes through in the course of What Momma Left Me left my heart aching for her. Serenity stands up to so much, she stood strong, and she survives. There is something so admirable about someone who can face the things she faces; the death of her mother, the abandonment of her father, a new school, new friends, drugs, the death of a friend, and questioning her beliefs in God with such strength and grace. And that’s only what I’m telling you; she goes through more. She’s a plucky girl, is Serenity, and her story is so real, so genuine, so vitally something that should be read.
And that’s why I’m picking What Momma Left Me to go through to the final round of the NerdsHeartYA tournament. What Momma Left Me is a book everyone can read, that everyone should read. Bleeding Violet, in the end, is a book I only feel comfortable recommending to older teens and adults for its graphic violence, sex, and torture scenes and how they are all handled with a metaphorical shrug of the shoulders. The lack of care that the 16-year-old characters are engaging in an active sex life, that death is just a matter of course, and the torture of a 16-year-old boy at the hands of an adult and teenager (together) and then narratively forgotten, never to be dealt with again, were just too much for me. Both books are great reads, but What Momma Left Me is the stronger book, for me.