What Mother Never Told Me
by Donna Hill, contemporary (2013, reissue)
Kimani, $6.99, ISBN 978-0-373-53462-3


What Mother Never Told Me was first published in trade paperback back in 2010, and it is only now that it is reissued in mass market paperback. I didn't realize until after I've started reading that this book is a re-telling of the author's older story Rhythms. What can I say? I didn't really remember much of the previous book until things in this book make me go, "Hey, this seems a bit familiar..." and check out my review of Rhythms. Don't judge me, please - that book came out in 2002.

This is not a sequel to that book, it's the same story, retold in a different narrative format. Where the previous book goes from one generation to another, this one has the same story unfold through the eyes of Parris McKay, with a little bonus of throwaway side plots involving her BFFs that don't actually have much to do with the main plot.

Oh, and reading the review of Rhythms will spoil this book for you, as, due to the narrative format, the elements that were present early in that book are revealed only late in this book. Be careful!

Parris, an unsigned but talented singer, discovers after the death of her grandmother Cora that her mother Emma is still alive. Oh no, is her entire life a lie? Flailing dramatically, she rushes to Paris to seek out her mother, who pretends to the household help so that she can avoid ugly confrontations with Parris. Meanwhile, Parris's new BFF cheats on her white boyfriend with a black guy - the race of those guys matters here because the author brings it up - but that's okay because the white boyfriend is also cheating on her so... er, hurray for everything!

Perhaps I would have enjoyed this one better if I hadn't read Rhythms. I had the same issue here as I did with that book: the women make so much of their personal drama with one another, but are so quickly to forgive that it often seems like these women are just being unnecessarily melodramatic for the sake of putting on a show. These women could have avoided a lot of trouble if they would stop being so much of a martyr. Cora kept silent even when her silence cost her those she loved... and for what? Edwina flails around in helpless silence until she nearly loses those she loves... and again, for what? Parris is just as melodramatic - oh no, so-and-so is not her blood relative, so it doesn't matter whether she was loved in the past; everything is a lie and her life is ruined. Insert a high-pitched dramatic "No!" here.

At the same time, the men are put on a bizarrely high pedestal. Those who abandoned their women in those women's time of need, due to their own bruised ego and refusal to communicate, aren't forgiven because there is not even any need of forgiveness. Their actions were never portrayed as wrong, as it is the women's fault. In a way, yes, the women's stubborn determination to martyr themselves brought a lot of anguish onto themselves. But that doesn't mean those men were right to do what they did. There is no black and white in such situations, and yet, the author attempts to portray them in just such a way. This results in the unfortunate implication that the sins are the women's alone to bear.

This "guys can't do wrong because we love them" point of view is to such an extent that Parris doesn't even ask her grandfather about her family secrets when the man is knee-deep in the smelly stuff and I learn in the end that he does know many of the answers Parris is seeking. Parris is too busy trying to understand why her mother and her grandmother wronged her, after all, and it is surely inconceivable that her grandfather may know something about her grandmother's relationship with Parris's mother!

There is also a very annoying tendency for the author to switch points of view from paragraph to paragraph whenever there is more than one character in a scene. Things get even more muddled up when these characters speak and I often find myself pausing in the midst of reading to determine who is speaking what. I get seasick after a while, and I soon start to wish that everyone in this story would just stay in his or her room and communicate via emails and text messages.

I'm not sure why the author wrote What Mother Never Told Me when Rhythms is still in print, but it makes sense that I have the same issues with the plot of this book as I did with that other book. I find this one less readable due to the crazy head hopping, however, and the pointless subplots involving the useless BFFs only take up space here. The whole thing is an annoying kind of pointlessness, really.

Rating: 61


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