Review: What A Mother’s Love Don’t Teach You

Four stars

THE PLOT: ‘What A Mother’s Love Don’t Teach You’ by Sharma Taylor is a novel set in 1980’s Jamaica. When Dinah got pregnant at 18 years old, she gave her baby to a rich couple who were struggling to conceive. But the couple moved to America and didn’t keep their promise to stay in touch. Now, a young man has arrived in Kingston and Dinah believes it’s her long-lost son. Brought up as an African-American, he wants to build a relationship with Dinah to explore his roots. But, when he’s pulled into a world of poverty, criminal gangs and corrupt politicians, Dinah seeks to save him from a tangled web of lies.

RATING: This is a very ambitious debut novel, with multiple POVs and extremely short chapters that alternate between first and third person. However, I think the author pulled it off and deserves four stars for what she’s accomplished. While I didn’t love any of the characters, they were all sympathetic and I liked how no-one was portrayed as good or bad – there’s a lot of nuance and shades of grey. The plot was entertaining and went in unexpected directions that were less about Dinah and her son, and more about Jamaica’s recent political history. Although I felt we never got a strong resolution to the central plot, I did like this setting because the interplay between criminality and politics was fascinating. Overall, I’d give this book a thumbs up and I’m excited to see what Sharma Taylor publishes next.

GOOD BITS: I love multiple POV novels so I was thrilled with the short chapters (often just two pages) that alternate perspective. For me, this always helps with pacing because I’m eager to get to the next section. Additionally, I love scenes when Character A misinterprets the actions of Character B, which leads to mayhem. While I do wish some characters in this novel just talked to each other to resolve things, it was so interesting to watch the misunderstandings between characters when, as readers, we can clearly understand their motivations.

NOT SO GOOD BITS: What I liked about this novel (short chapters and multi-POV) is also responsible for its shortcoming. Put simply, I didn’t fall in love with any of the characters because I had so little time with each of them. In particular, I felt Dinah’s voice was too old. Ostensibly, she’s around 40-years-old but her narration felt like 60+. Perhaps I’d have connected to her more if she had an external life outside of her son (e.g., friends or a lover her own age). I also felt the story lost its way around 70% as it moved from Dinah to secondary characters, which meant the central conflict was not fully resolved.

OVERALL: I’d recommend this book to lovers of ‘Black Cake’ by Charmaine, ‘Girl, Woman, Other’ by Bernadine Evaristo and ‘Small Island’ by Andrea Levy – all favourite books of mine. Sharma Taylor is a Jamaican author and her stories have been shortlisted for the Commonwealth Short Story Prize – a great pick for #ReadCaribbean during Caribbean Heritage Month.

Thank you to Virago for my #gifted copy. ‘What A Mother’s Love Don’t Teach You’ is available to buy on 7th July 2022 in the UK, but you can pre-order now.