Book Review: God Help the Child by Toni Morrison

Toni Morrison’s fierce and provocative new novel, the first one to be set in our current times, exposes the damage that adults wreak on children, and how this echoes through the generations.

When Sweetness gives birth to Lula Ann Bridewell, who calls herself Bride, she is unprepared for her darkness. Bride’s blue-black coloring repels Sweetness, who doesn’t want to hold her or touch her. It makes Sweetness unduly harsh, constantly criticizing and shouting at the young Lula Ann, who only wants her mother’s approval – at any cost.

Booker grew up in a large, loving family. Their most sacred time was the weekend, when the whole family gathered around breakfast table, which was dominated by good food and cheerful conversations. While growing up, Booker hero worshipped his older brother Adam. Then one day, Adam disappeared, and Booker’s life took a U-turn.

When Bride’s and Booker’s paths cross, they are drawn to one another almost instantly. In Booker, Bride finds the acceptance she has always craved. In Bride, Booker finds the peace that has been ever elusive since Adam’s death. But will their childhood scars allow them to find the love and peace they both crave? Or will their demons raise their ugly heads and tear everything asunder?

This slim, spare novel is a profound meditation on the wide-ranging impact that a traumatic childhood can have, not only on the child and he or she grows into adulthood, but even on the people around them. Though Bride has grown into a successful fashion industry mogul and flaunts her blackness as a badge of beauty, her personal life is in shambles. And Booker, despite having access to the best of education and wisdom beyond his years, still drifts through life without aim, carrying the cross of his brother.

While this is undoubtedly a compelling read and unlike Morrison’s earlier books, isn’t very heavy on the vernacular, it does have its flaws. The biggest of which is some potentially interesting underdeveloped characters, like Bride’s sinister so-called best friend Brooklyn. Morrison gives her a very fleeting appearance in the book, and those few short chapters narrated in her voice are not enough to do her character any sort of justice. There’s also a sense that she could have had a more pivotal role in the novel, but she’s just not given the importance she deserves. The same goes for Booker’s aunt Queen, who, with her wisdom and her flaws, could have served as a sharp counterpoint to Sweetness. But their stories are woefully short. Despite this slight failing, God Help The Child is a powerful, engrossing read.

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