Book Review: Orange Mint And Honey: A Novel

Book Reviewed by Idrissa Uqdah

A Daughter’s Song.

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 five-star read.

Read One World/Ballantine’s description of Orange Mint And Honey: A Novel.

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