readergirlz is a literacy and social media project for teens, awarded the National Book Foundation's Innovations in Reading Prize. The rgz blog serves as a depot for news and YA reviews from industry professionals and teens. As volunteers return full force to their own YA writing, the organization continues to hold one initiative a year to impact teen literacy. All are welcome to "like" us on Facebook!

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Rgz Salon: What Momma Left Me by Renee Watson, Reviewed by Lyn Miller-Lachmann

Rgz SALON member Lyn Miller-Lachmann has been the Editor-in-Chief of MultiCultural Review; the author of the award-winning multicultural bibliography Our Family, Our Friends, Our World; the editor of Once Upon a Cuento, a collection of short stories by Latino authors; and most recently, the author of Gringolandia, a young adult novel about a refugee family living with the aftermath of the Pinochet dictatorship in Chile. The book has now sold out half of its second print run and is available for order! (Don't forget to read the fascinating Cover Story for Gringolandia.)

We're honored to have Lyn here as part of the rgz SALON, a feature where four of the top kidlit experts clue us in to the best YA novels they've read recently. Today, she reviews What Momma Left Me by Renée Watson (Bloomsbury, 2010).

"The Cybils nominations are in, and committee members are at work, picking out the lists of finalists. Checking the list of nominees a few days ago, I noticed my friend Ari from Reading in Color added Watson’s debut young adult novel. Great choice, and here’s my review:

"Thirteen-year-old Serenity’s father has just killed her mother after years of physical abuse, and Serenity and her 12-year-old brother, Danny, have gone to live across town with their maternal grandparents. Grandpa is the minister of an African-American Baptist church, and he and Grandma find solace in their faith, but Serenity questions how a benevolent God would have allowed her mother to die, her father to disappear (we later find out he has committed suicide), and her little family to be destroyed. Grandma and Grandpa enroll Serenity and Danny in a strict private school and require their attendance at Sunday school. A new school means a fresh start—Serenity makes friends and Danny becomes the middle school heartthrob. However, Danny starts to make poor choices, and he, Serenity, and Serenity’s new best friend are drawn into a circle of violence that brings her into conflict with her grandparents and challenges her faith even further.

"Read together, the chapter titles are the Lord’s Prayer! This seemingly small touch enriches Watson’s exploration of Christian and African-American traditions (with recipes) in the life of a young teenager struggling to recover from a horrific tragedy. Watson’s writing is vivid and tangible right from the beginning, when she describes what it’s like for Serenity to come back to the apartment where her mother died in order to pick up her things and move away forever. As Grandma and Grandpa try to give structure to the lives of children robbed of their childhood by family dysfunction and violence, readers see Serenity and Danny’s very realistic ambivalence, as they chafe against expectations but find comfort in them. Journal entries from Serenity’s first period poetry class lead off each chapter and give the reader a glimpse of the soul of this courageous young teenager." -Lyn Miller-Lachmann


Jackie Parker said...

It is a beautiful book, well-written and moving. Unfortunately, because of it's childish cover, I can't get any of the teens in my library to actually pick it up.

Melissa Walker said...

Oh, the cover! I thought that too, Jackie. Lyn's review makes it sound so wonderful, but covers do so much. I'll be picking it up, regardless!

Lorie Ann Grover said...

I had the same reaction, Jackie and Melissa! Even the title tips younger. That makes me so sad for this story that sounds amazing!

Lyn Miller-Lachmann said...

I hope the publisher gives the paperback edition a more mature look. It's not only the mismatch in age group, but also the fact that What Momma Left Me deals with a lot of serious themes, and doesn't talk down to the reader in doing so.

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