Summary and book reviews of That Kind of Mother by Rumaan Alam

That Kind of Mother

by Rumaan Alam

That Kind of Mother by Rumaan Alam X
That Kind of Mother by Rumaan Alam
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  • Published:
    May 2018, 304 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Donna Chavez

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About this Book

Book Summary

From the celebrated author of Rich and Pretty, a novel about the families we fight to build and those we fight to keep.

Like many first-time mothers, Rebecca Stone finds herself both deeply in love with her newborn son and deeply overwhelmed. Struggling to juggle the demands of motherhood with her own aspirations and feeling utterly alone in the process, she reaches out to the only person at the hospital who offers her any real help - Priscilla Johnson - and begs her to come home with them as her son's nanny.

Priscilla's presence quickly does as much to shake up Rebecca's perception of the world as it does to stabilize her life. Rebecca is white, and Priscilla is black, and through their relationship, Rebecca finds herself confronting, for the first time, the blind spots of her own privilege. She feels profoundly connected to the woman who essentially taught her what it means to be a mother. When Priscilla dies unexpectedly in childbirth, Rebecca steps forward to adopt the baby. But she is unprepared for what it means to be a white mother with a black son. As she soon learns, navigating motherhood for her is a matter of learning how to raise two children whom she loves with equal ferocity, but whom the world is determined to treat differently.

Written with the warmth and psychological acuity that defined his debut, Rumaan Alam has crafted a remarkable novel about the lives we choose, and the lives that are chosen for us.

1

THE BOOK LIED. BOOKS LIED; SHE KNEW THAT. WALK, IT SAID. HOW?
Rebecca felt anchored, or not quite: like she was immersed in honey or quicksand, something thick and sticky. Books were bullshit. What could a book tell you? Her knees ached and there was—well, effluvia was the word for it, a word so lovely it disguised its meaning. What if she leaked onto the linoleum? How humiliating, but the book said Walk and the doctor said Walk and the nurse said Walk so Rebecca, obedient student, walked.

"You're all right, darling?" Christopher was English; he could use a noun like darling without sounding patronizing.

"Fine." Small talk seemed silly when giving birth. She was holding on to her husband's arm, despite feeling herself the sort of woman who did not need to hold on to a man's arm. They'd been married in front of a judge, for God's sake. "Fine," she said again.

Christopher was eager. "You'll tell me. If you need to sit." "Doctor Brownmiller said ...

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Reviews

BookBrowse Review

BookBrowse

Alam writes poetically, easily leaving plot and secondary characters as specters hovering in the background and only bringing them to the fore as needed. This is truly Rebecca's story, and what is on the page is largely from her point of view. Quite an accomplishment for a male author, and all in all he pulls it off quite well, depicting a late 20th century woman grappling with society's skein of often conflicting expectations.   (Reviewed by Donna Chavez).

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Media Reviews

Huffington Post
From [a] heartbreaking premise, Alam plumbs still more heartbreaking questions about the power and limitations of maternal love, and the implacable persistence of racial divides.

Entertainment Weekly

Coming off his celebrated debut Rich and Pretty, Rumaan Alam's sophomore novel returns to themes of family and culture in a powerful tale of a white mother raising a black son.

Publishers Weekly
The novel offers a memorable depiction of a mother's journey as her children grow and her marriage collapses.

Library Journal
Alam's deeply sensitive and provocative second novel (after Rich and Pretty) authentically touches on themes front and center in today's discourse - white privilege, the rocky path of good intentions, racial divides, and the profoundly intimate details of motherhood and of accomplished women finding their way in a man's world.

Booklist
Starred Review. Quietly brilliant...Alam's unerring yet unobtrusive eye asks uncomfortable questions: Can motherhood ever look beyond race? Can we learn to recognize the terrible blindness of our respective cultural perspectives?.... A stunning accomplishment.

Kirkus Reviews
Starred Review. Alam cements his status as that kind of writer: insightful, intrepid, and truly impressive.

Author Blurb Danzy Senna, author of New People
This gorgeous book calls into question all our assumptions - about family and tribe, race and loyalty, privilege and paucity. Brave, sharp and empathetic, Rumaan Alam shows us motherhood as I've never seen it: at once a quotidian labor and a radical and transformative excavation of the self.

Author Blurb Stephanie Powell Watts, author of No One is Coming to Save Us
A rich, complex, beautifully observed story about the collision of class, race and family. Motherhood is an overwhelming and joyful job and this book takes on the minutia of that domestic sphere with quiet, but incendiary power.

Author Blurb Celeste Ng, author of Little Fires Everywhere
With his unerring eye for nuance and unsparing sense of irony, Rumaan Alam's second novel is both heartfelt and thought-provoking.

Reader Reviews

Lorri A Steinbacher

Motherhood examined
I went into this thinking that it would be an "issues" book, but it is far more than that. It is really a character study of a particular woman, a particular mother over time. That this particular mother adopted a child of another race was important ...   Read More

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Beyond the Book

On the Front Line of Transracial Adoption

Transracial AdoptionThe protagonist and her husband in Rumaan Alam's novel That Kind of Mother are a white upper middle-class couple who adopt a black infant. They love and raise him alongside their own biological son, and treat them as brothers. Race plays a key role in almost every aspect of their lives. The story takes place in Washington DC in the late 80s and early 90s, when transracial adoption was uncommon. There is wisdom to be gleaned from both transracial parents who adopt and their adopted children. Here are three points of view on the issue.

In an interview with Natalie Brenner at Adoption.com, a platform for sharing stories and connecting with resources about adoption, Angela Tucker, a nationally-recognized leader on transracial adoption ...

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