cover image What Momma Left Me

What Momma Left Me

Renée Watson, Bloomsbury, $15.99 (240p) ISBN 978-1-59990-446-7

Watson's first novel (after the picture book A Place Where Hurricanes Happen) explores themes of abuse, faith, and identity in an urban setting through the voice, diary entries, and poems of 13-year-old Serenity Evans. Serenity and her younger brother, Danny, move in with their grandparents in Portland, Ore., after their mother dies and their drug dealer father skips town. "Momma is a song that I can't forget," Serenity thinks. "Her melody comes to mind and I realize that traces of her song are still here." She immediately connects with Maria, who attends her new school and church ("She knows that there are some types of sadness that can't be explained"), but Serenity is not immediately ready to open up about the loss of her mother, and Danny starts running with a dangerous crowd. Serenity's struggles and insights, as she wrestles with her parents' legacy and an uncertain future, are inspiring, authentic, and told in a straightforward yet poetic style. The first-person narration is consistent, and the mystery of the painful circumstances of her mother's death—as well as additional tragedies—propels the story. Ages 10–14. (July)