God Help the Child by Toni Morrison — A Review

god help the childGod Help the Child by Toni Morrison

RaeleighReads rating: 5 out of 5 coffee cups

“A woman could be cobra-thin and starving, but if she had grapefruit boobs and raccoon eyes, she was deliriously happy. Right.”

“He had been shaped by talk in the flesh and text on paper.”

“In time the whole family perked up like Sesame Street puppets, hoping that cheer, if worked at hard enough, could sugar the living and quiet the dead.”

Morrison boldly looks into the traumatic face of reality — the stories we all know exist in our world, but that we tuck away into dark recesses in our mind so that we may be comfortable in our every day lives. Expertly written and unashamedly direct, this is a must read and receives a RaeleighReads rating of five out of five coffee cups.

God Help the Child follows the character Bride, whose story is complimented by the satellite stories of the people who come into contact with her life — Sweetness, Booker, Brooklyn, Sofia, Queen, and Rain. Bride is a young woman who has escaped her sheltered and oppressed life at home with her mother, Sweetness, and has now made it big as the developer of a cosmetics line for a major company. Unwanted by her mother because of her dark skin, Bride turns the tables, so to speak, using her dark skin as a shield and as a brand in the corporate world. A seemingly vapid character, Bride knows that she is beautiful and spends much of her time considering this fact — worrying over it so much so, and being willfully ignorant of the world around her — that parts of her beautiful body begin to disappear as though they were never there in the first place. Her lover, Booker, leaves her without reason. Her best friend, Brooklyn, stabs her in the back, and she ends up going on a spur-of-the-moment adventure to locate Booker, and find — what? She doesn’t really know, and neither do we.

There is an obvious surface story here, but underneath that Morrison takes on the themes of race, beauty, exploitation, rape, incarceration, child molestation, hatred, fear, the confusing nature of love, and the hardships of child rearing. Heavy stuff! But her handling of this subject matter is superbly nuanced while still being clearly present. I suggest reading it all in one go — at 178 pages that is certainly doable. And then, go back and read it again, more leisurely this time.

I would recommend this book to anyone who is following current events in our world — at all. Also, anyone who enjoys reading writers at the top of their linguistic game — this book is for you. Morrison’s prose are succinct and beautiful. No word is wasted; no extra words are needed. Superb. Have I said that yet? Superb.

“…it was only then that he noticed the rain — soft, steady. The sun still blazed so the raindrops falling from a baby-blue sky were like crystal breaking into specks of light on the pavement.”

Some opinions you may be interested in:

“The prose is lean, uncluttered. Morrison’s novelistic architectures have always been exceptionally well-designed; she crafts the vessels, carefully and uniquely to each story, before pouring in the water, and God Help the Child is no exception.”
Cleveland Plain Dealer

“[Morrison’s] powers are proudly on display in God Help the Child. At its best, this new novel demonstrates that the author is, as she suggested recently in a New York Times Magazine profile, fully capable of writing novels forever.”
The Atlantic

“Every page contains at least one passage of breathtaking prose, a lyrical flow accentuated by stark imagery and laden with poetic contrasts.”
Dallas Morning News

Some other opinions you may find useful:

“The first section contains richly achieved voice, which has always been a strong card in Morrison. But the narrative goes haywire in much of the rest of the book.” –David Curry on Amazon

“The ending is disappointing to say the least. It’s not that the ending is bad, it should not have ended right where it was all starting to come together. I mean you talking about a cliff hanger! I am still trying to figure out what is the point of the story.” –Judith Gunn on Amazon

“Compelling and(but?) deeply unpleasant. Needs to be literally wrapped in a trigger warning. As with other Morrison that I have read, she excels when showing rather than telling. The bits of magical realism were interesting but they just felt…odd to me when thrown up against the blunt descriptions of sexual trauma. I read it quickly, there were parts I found really moving, and I almost certainly will not read it again.” –Melinda on Goodreads

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7 thoughts on “God Help the Child by Toni Morrison — A Review

  1. I just finished reading this book. And I must admit, it took me several days to get into it, but once I got to the middle, all of a sudden, I was really into the story and started trying to read only ten pages at a time so that it would take longer to read it. After awhile, it really does suck the reader into the story.

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  2. Been reading your last few reviews and I love your approach. Adding in opinions/reviews from other sources is inspired. It’s great to have a balanced representation of the work instead of just one opinion.
    You get five (brimming!) coffee cups from me.

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    • Thank you so much, Fiona! I really appreciate that compliment. Any time I do a review I know I’m walking a fine line between constructive and derogatory criticism (or over-the-top praise). And I realize that not everyone reads a book the same way — we all take away different things from it because we’ve all had different life experiences that shape our preferences and opinions.

      I think the masses are split in terms of this novel. It was my first Toni Morrison, and obviously I loved it! However, I think some people who have been following her work for years were very disappointed with God Help the Child. Apparently it was a major departure from her typical style. I didn’t know that, and I wonder if my review would have been different if this hadn’t been my first Morrison novel. Things to ponder!

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