Tiger Mother Love
How does she do it? A couple of years back, Jeanine Cummins made me fall in love with a little Irish boy named Christy from her novel, The Outside Boy. Handsome Hubby didn’t mind—Christy was a BOY not a man, after all. And now, after reading her new novel, The Crooked Branch, I think I’m in love with two mothers. This time, I don’t know if he’ll understand…
But I hope y’all do. And if you leave a comment below, your name will be entered in a drawing to win a copy of today’s book, The Crooked Branch, by Jeanine Cummins—from the nice folks over at NAL (New American Library)! (Drawing will take place April 15 and is open to US residents, only, please…)
Like the author’s previous novel, her new book is a wonderful story written with magical prose—and a huge heart! While the former swept us away to an enchanted world of mid-century Irish Travellers, this one takes us on two journeys. The first is to mid-19th century Ireland—where Ginny Doyle fights to feed her children in the time of the great potato famine, while the second takes place a little closer to home—in contemporary Queens, New York, where Majella struggles with her own very different motherhood concerns related to post-partum and identity issues. But Majella also suffers from an additional fear. When she finds Ginny’s diary in her family attic and reads what appears to be a disturbing murder confession, she begins to wonder if being crazy or just a bad mother—or both—might be inherited.
Both mothers wrestle with demons that threaten the welfare of their children with the ferocity of a tiger mother. You will fall in love with both of these young spunky mothers as you experience their battle—not just for what’s best for each of them, but ultimately, what’s best for their babies. And the author creates such rich, realistic, and rounded characters, she makes it easy for us to cheer for them. The two stories alternate with each chapter, offering unique voices and creating suspense while contributing to the pleasant pacing of the storylines. Foreshadowing was used skillfully, which also added to the suspense, but never in a ‘spoiling’ way. And the plot never outpaced the character development.
But what stood out the most for me about Ms. Cummins writing, is how she can switch from Majella’s snarky New York humor (and precocious potty-mouth) to lyrical prose in a heartbeat.
Here, she describes a taste of (what will turn out to be) her 28-hour delivery (pg 9):
“…They told me I was brave and I was doing a great job. I didn’t have much choice. I squeezed my eyes shut so that my eyeballs wouldn’t spring free of my head. My baby would be born, and during the big, beautiful moment of arrival, it (he, she) would get hit in the head with my runaway eyeball. An inauspicious greeting.
‘Welcome to the world, baby!’ PING! ‘Oh, don’t mind that, sweetie—no, no, don’t cry. It’s just Mommy’s eyeball’.”
Later, we learn how Ginny copes after her husband leaves (pg. 65):
“ Those first days without Raymond were like learning a new way of breathing for Ginny, like her lungs had been folded in half, and she had to discover how to get by without air. “
And in another scene, Majella describes the intensity of her feeling for her new-born daughter, Emma (pg. 88):
“My heaven-scented need-factory. I am entwined with Emma in ways I never saw coming. My love for her has the bared teeth of a wild animal. Fang. Slaver. “
This slow reader could not put the book down—which meant a very late night (read ‘early morning’—I am really slow…) for this poor blogger. But I was rewarded with a satisfactorily hopeful ending.
Themes that book clubs can discuss include: childbirth, motherhood—and how love is not perfect, “Mommy” vs. “Daddy” parenting roles, hereditary traits vs. learned skills, post-partum issues, search for identity, insanity, and to what lengths would you go to save the ones you love. A reader’s guide is included in the back as well.
This is not a book for just mothers or daughters—although mothers and daughters will love it—but a book for everyone who considers themselves human.
Brava! Jeanine Cummins has done it again!
Author’s Website: Jeanine Cummins.com/wordpress
Author Interview (audio): The Mark Steiner Show
Author Interview: Jeanine “Dream-casts” Her Book to Movie
Author piece on Ireland written for BCC in ’11: The Jeanine Cummins Non-Touristy CyberTour of Amazing Irish Places You Won’t Find in Your Guidebook
Author Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/JeanineCummins
Author Twitter: http://www.twitter.com/jeaninecummins
Previous Books by Jeanine Cummins:
The Outside Boy: a novel about a little Irish gypsy boy in the 1950s.
BCC Review of Jeanine Cummins’s The Outside Boy—one of my all-time favorite book club reads (it’s the 11th one down in the “Book Buzz” column—and now you know why I had to start a blog…)
A Rip in Heaven: A Memoir of Murder And Its Aftermath: an award-winning memoir about a devastating crime in which her cousins were killed and her brother was the only survivor. It’s used in classrooms today to show crime’s effect on the victims’ families.