Book Review: Mama’s Child by Joan Steinau Lester

Mama's Child by Joan Steinau Lester, book review, mixed race lit, multiracial, biracial, interracial

I recently received a review copy of Mama’s Child from JKS Communications.  The following is my full review.  All opinions are my own.

Mama’s Child is a book about identity and self-exploration.  It is a tale that is deeply entwined in sociological thought.  A great read for those interested in sociology, feminism and especially blended families.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Joan Steinau Lester, Ed.D., is an award-winning journalist and author of four critically acclaimed books. Her writing has appeared in many newspapers and magazines, including Essence, Los Angeles Times, Chicago Tribune, and Cosmopolitan. She lives in Northern California.

Initial thoughts about Mama’s Child

I have heard of Joan Steinau Lester before (Black, White, Other), although this is the first of her books that I have read.  I was further inspired to read it when I learned that Alice Walker had written the foreword.

“Is this a feminist book?”  I thought.

I was definitely intrigued.

When I first read the description of Mama’s Child, I wondered about the white mother in the story.  She sounded like an activist, like someone who would disprove the general belief that white moms can’t raise biracial children.  Would she be someone who I could relate to or even aspire to be like?

But the story didn’t exactly turn out that way.  In fact, it’s not the story that many women may anticipate, of an attentive, progressive, socially adept woman who just happens to fall prey to the ails of society or the drama of divorce.

Elizabeth, the white mother in this story, is flawed, as we all are, and in her weakest moments, she made mistakes, which can arguably be considered unforgivable at times.

After the first few chapters, I found myself loathing Elizabeth.  I didn’t want to relate to her or connect myself to her character.  I was angry at her and upset to see a life playing out for her daughter Ruby, that resonated with me, as a child affected by divorce.

I saw myself in Ruby’s character.  A strong, determined young woman, who wasn’t about to submit to the drama.  Head strong and sometimes cold, in an attempt to protect herself from what she believe was inevitable suffering.

Ruby, a young girl in a broken home, has a mother who barely recognizes her cries for attention or nurturing.  I grew up in a home like this after my parents divorced.  It was a hard life that left me feeling invisible most days and hopeless on others.  There were good times too, but inevitably, the bad ones often seems more memorable.  Much like the situations described in Mama’s Child.

What I got out of Mama’s Child

This book left me with a sense of anxiety that I didn’t expect.  The detailed descriptions and attention to both characters proved to bring an especially difficult situation to life for readers.  At times the plot was confusing or troubling.

Race was just one of many discussions in this book, and not the main focus as suggested, but in the end, it did play a role in demonstrating why Ruby chooses to identify the way that she does and why it may be difficult for her to be 100% her true self in the presence of her mother.

Feminism and personal identity played key roles in this story, which is essentially a journey of self-discovery for both mother and daughter.  Ultimately, the two become divided because their personal realities have become too contrasting to ignore.

Mama’s Child is a well-written, descriptive novel that is split between both Elizabeth’s and Ruby’s unique perspectives, each of which lends an interesting sociological element to the story.  Discussions on history, culture, feminism and race are woven into the story in a way that develops each character’s identity.

Why should you read this book?

  • If you’re a mother and a feminist, this book will make you question how your feminism affects your daughters.  It will make you wonder about the differences between feminism for white women and women of color.
  • If you’ve ever been a part of a blended family, you will recognize the struggle of both Elizabeth and Ruby, as well as how isolated they both feel, despite having each other.
  • If you’ve ever wondered how a child of divorce might feel after their parents separate, I can attest that this is what that experience looks and feels like to many.
  • If you’ve ever been afraid that disagreements may come between you and your child, or that you may be an overbearing parent, this book could help provide some perspective.
  • If you appreciate raw and emotionally charged stories that get to the heart of what it means to be human and vulnerable, this book is for you.

CLICK HERE to read more reviews or purchase the book on Amazon.

If you’ve read the book, I would love to hear what you think of it.  Did you like it?  Did it resonate with you?  What did you think of the feminist and/or racial dilemmas within the story?

About Author

South Texas Foodie, Traveler, Photographer, and Designer.