MAMA'S CHILD by Joan Steinau Lester


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Lester’s (Black, White, Other, 2011, etc.) poignant narrative probes the relationship between a mother and her biracial daughter.

Young Lizzie O’Leary is a starry-eyed idealist who drops out of college in 1963 and heads to Greenwood, Miss., to become a civil rights volunteer. When she meets and falls in love with Solomon Jordan, an African-American musician and recent college graduate, they move to San Francisco. Fifteen years later, their biracial marriage has produced two children, Ruby and Che, who’ve been raised to identify with their black heritage. Lizzie spouts the doctrine and attends the rallies—whenever Solomon doesn’t try to keep her hidden away from his Black Panther colleagues—but her white skin and flaming red hair brand her as an outsider. However, Lizzie’s an activist who’s adopted feminist beliefs as well, and she’s angry that Solomon spends so much time outside the home while she’s expected to raise the children and care for the house. Their constant arguments lead to divorce, and when Lizzie and Solomon split up, Che goes to live with his father, and Ruby’s forced to stay with her mother. An angry young teenager, Ruby resents Lizzie both for what she perceives her to be (self-absorbed and racist) and what she knows she cannot be (someone who can empathize with her feelings as a person with a culturally diverse background). Contributing to the frayed relationship is the fact that Lizzie attacks her mothering role with vigor while also going to the opposite extreme. She recruits a biracial woman to mentor Ruby and then has an affair with her. Lizzie tries to engage Ruby in mother–daughter time by cultivating a garden, but she forgets to pick her up after hockey practice. She encourages her daughter to become self-sufficient by refusing to cook but insists on hiring a baby sitter for Ruby on the evenings she works late. The struggle to heal the rift between the two is both complex and emotional. Lester writes well about a subject familiar to her: She’s a member of a biracial family, and her previous book, geared toward young adults, addresses the same issue.

No matter a person’s ethnic or cultural background, this book is relatable.

Pub Date: May 28th, 2013
ISBN: 978-1-4516-9318-8
Page count: 320pp
Publisher: Atria
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1st, 2013


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