In this debut novel, African-American Addie shares stories about being raised by her strong-willed grandmother in segregated 1960s South Carolina.
“Don’t yah ever call me Grandmother. Call me Mother.” That’s one of the first directives 7-year-old Addie hears after being dropped off by her mother to live with her grandmother, who is already taking care of Addie’s siblings, in the “Colored” section of a segregated town in South Carolina. Addie then details her upbringing with this upright woman, how “Gradually, I would experience the purpose for her strong will and what it meant to her for me to be strong in her eyes.” Addie tells her stories in first person, largely through the eyes of a child seeing Mother’s role-model sensibilities and tough-love approach: Mother’s fearsome response to an impatient white woman behind her at the grocery store; the discipline-instilling “whupping” given to the children even if it “hurt [Mother] more”; and her managing of financial priorities, including keeping up with insurance policies, rallying church members to support an African student selling Bibles, and forking over precious dollars for NAACP dues. One of Addie’s final anecdotes reveals her grandmother’s charitable agreement to take care of the haughty white woman for whom she previously worked. Bolstered by vibrant anecdotes, Hannah’s narrative is by turns funny, sad, and touching. In regards to the grocery store incident, Addie notes, “It was years later that I realized that Mother was just as afraid of White folk as the next Colored person. She said that her only defense was that she didn’t show fear and prayed a lot. That’s what made the difference in her life.” The novel’s slice-of-life approach has its limitations, with some narrative elements (what happened to Addie’s real mother?) left unexplained. Overall, however, Hannah provides an engaging, vital snapshot of life in the segregated South.
Heartfelt and instructive portrait of an inspiring African-American caregiver.