Summary: What Momma Left Me
What Momma Left Me is Renee Watson’s debut middle-grade novel. At this point, I believe I’ve read all her books except this Watch Us Rise, which she co-wrote with Ellen Hagan. I adore Watson’s writing and this book is no different.
Serenity and her brother, Danny, have to move in with their grandparents after her mother’s death. Their father is nowhere to be found and the kids have to deal with their grief while adjusting to a new lifestyle — new school, new friends, new routines — with their mother’s parents. Their grandfather is a preacher and both grandparents are ardent churchgoers. The story is told from Serenity’s point of view as she tries to make sense of life through her poetry in English class.
In the course of the story, as Serenity goes to grief counseling, we learn how their mother died, what’s up with their father, and how that affects both kids’ lives. We also see both children deal with negative peer pressure and regain the strength to choose better paths than their parents did.
This is an excellent example of an upper middle-grade book, with a 13-year-old protagonist and quite serious topics addressed in a digestible format for young readers. Serenity is a bright-eyed character who has experienced so much trauma, but is also more open to healing than many in her place would be. I loved Watson’s use of The Lord’s Prayer as chapter titles throughout the book, especially with the prayer’s symbolism for Serenity and her mother.
The side characters in this book such as Jay, Ricky, and Maria are complicated and nuanced. Despite their poor choices, Watson doesn’t demonize them at all, but helps readers see the different facets to them. This book is therapy-positive, yay! Books that portray counseling and therapy are always nice to find. Church and religious services also play a major role in the lives of these characters, as Serenity attends church, Youth programs, and even quotes Scripture a few times in the book. However, I don’t think it would bother non-religious readers.
Finally, family and cooking are a big part of this story. I loved reading Serenity’s relationship with her brother, late mother, and grandparents. Even her cousins show up frequently for them. Plus, there’s a lot of cooking and mention of food, as Serenity’s grandmother is working on a cookbook and Serenity and her mother often cooked as a bonding activity.
Overall: What Momma Left Me
What Momma Left Me is a hard-to-put-down debut upper middle-grade novel packed with several crucial themes, but never bogged down by them. Watson gently handles her characters and the sensitive themes she covers, creating a story that is impossible to forget. From drug use/sale to domestic violence, parental death and sexual abuse, Watson doesn’t hold back. This book highlights the impact of family trauma, and yet, how important it is to have family, and friends like family when we’re healing. A strong love of poetry and cooking, as well as an unwavering female friendship also make this book especially heartwarming.
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More Books Like What Momma Left Me
- Forever or a Long, Long Time by Caela Carter (recommended for upper middle-grade/childhood trauma)
- Genesis Begins Again by Alicia D. Williams (strong female protagonist who writes/having to move homes)
- Dough Boys by Paula Chase (drug sale/teen shooting/religious family)
Have you read this book or any titles by Renee Watson? I loved Ways to Make Sunshine and Some Places More Than Others for middle-grade, and her YA book, This Side of Home is another forever favorite of mine. What are your favorites?