Much has been written about mother/daughter relationships in
African American literature. It seems to be a very popular theme
so the whole topic can sometimes sound old to many readers.
First time author Carleen Brice takes it up a notch in her
novel, Orange Mint and Honey.
A twenty-five year-old graduate student, Shay is suffering from
burnout and is encouraged by her advisor to take some time off
to regroup before completing her thesis. She enrolled in a
college in Iowa City to escape her past and build a new life.
She studies hard, makes good grades but lives in her own little
world of academia and work. Taking time off is not in her plans.
Being a daughter of an alcoholic mother, growing up in Denver,
Shay is left to raise herself. She has a few friends, yet still
a loner. She needs to prove to self and the world that she can
accomplish her missions.
Mother Nona drinks herself sick throughout Shay's childhood and
Shay, with no father or grandparents to take up the slack,
learns early in life to depend on no one. To say that she has
major trust issues is an understatement.
Shay's life takes a big turn: she loses her job writing grant
proposals for an indigent-care clinic, stops attending classes
and receives an eviction notice from her landlord.
Carleen Brice uses the spirit of Shay's favorite singer, the
late Nina Simone, to bring this main character to life.
Listening to Nina Simone's musical repertoire, Shay sinks into
denial until the ghost of Nina appears in her bedroom and
admonishes her to do something about her pitiful life. The
singer has been in her head for so long that she has become
real. Nina tells Shay to go home. It has been seven years since
seeing her mother; at that time anger and resentment had
perverted their relationship. She did not want that experience
again. ’But this time it could be different,’ Nina Simone says.
Mother and daughter have a world between them. Nona tries to
reach out but Shay refuses her offer of reconciliation, even
though her mother has changed. Nona is now sober and remorseful.
But a new wedge is created when Shay learns upon her return to
Denver that Nona had given birth to Sunshine three years ago.
Shay thinks how can she be such a loving and attentive mother to
Sunshine when she was such a lousy mother to me?
The author tells the story of Nona, Shay and Sunshine with much
clarity, depth and poetry. The scenes are vivid offering a
mental picture of the little cottage where Nona and Sunshine
live. You can smell the flowers and herbs in Nona's garden, and
taste the healthy meals she cooks as well as hear her singing as
she prepares them. Carleen Brice is an amazing new author who
has written an equally amazing first novel. Her story of love,
pain, understanding and forgiveness speaks to the heart of women
readers who enjoy a good tear-jerker. It kept me laughing from
the very first chapter. As well, it brought tears of compassion
to my eyes for Shay and Nona. Orange Mint and Honey is a