Mama by Terry McMillan


Mama by Terry McMillan

Genre: African American fiction
Publication Date: 1987
Pages: 260 pages
Setting: Detroit, Michigan; Los Angeles, CA; New York City
Series: n/a
Plot Summary: Mama (Mildred Peacock) is a single mother raising 5 children in an impoverished area outside Detroit after she divorces her abusive, alcoholic husband.  Her focus is on raising her children as she struggles with money issues – sometimes working, sometimes on welfare; with drinking – her ex-husbands, her daughter’s and her own.  She moves between men and between cities looking for a better life.  As her children grow and find their own paths, Mildred is alternately satisfied and despondent.
Subject headings: single parent family – Michigan; single mothers; African-American families – Michigan; African-American women; motherhood; The Sixties (20th century); The Seventies (20th Century); Detroit, Michigan; African-American fiction – 20th century; domestic fiction; women’s lives and relationships.
Appeal: compelling, steady, evocative, insightful, lifelike, realistic, strong secondary (characters), vivid, authentic, character-centered, domestic, family-centered, contemporary, details of poverty; bittersweet, candid, edgy, emotionally-charged, gritty, haunting, hopeful, optimistic, philosophical, cadenced, earthy, frank, natural.
Three terms that best describe this book: gritty, powerful, moving.

Similar works/authors
Rattlebone by Maxine Claire
This book is a collection of stories about the citizens of Rattlebone, a black community in the Midwest in the 1950s.  Chosen because it features a variety of characters before the civil rights movement much like the early years of Mildred Peacock’s family.

If I Could by Donna Hill
This novel features a strong black woman who tries to rebuild her life and raise her children alone, after she divorces her husband.  She does what she thinks is best for her, despite the advice of her family and friends.  Chosen to illustrate another woman who must make tough choices to keep her family intact.

Taming it down: a novel by Kim McLarin
In this novel, Hope Robinson is a young black journalist who is struggling to define her life amid complicated personal and family issues.  She is also trying to overcome self-destructive behaviors.  Chosen because it is so similar to the story of Freda, the oldest daughter in Mama.
Shifting through neutral by Bridgett M. Davis
The main character in this novel is trying to find her place as a young African American woman in the 1970s while she deals with other family issues involving her mother, her sick father, and her older sister’s return to the family.  Chosen because it parallels many of the issues found in Mama.
Dear self: a year in the life of a welfare mom by Richelene Mitchell
The author wrote this journal as she struggled to raise seven children while fighting poverty, racism and the humiliation of the welfare system.  She moved to Philadelphia from the south to get an education and wrote this journal during a year of living in public housing projects in Connecticut.  Chosen because it is a real life chronicle of the types of struggles Mildred Peacock faced in Mama.
Children of the movement: the sons and daughters of Martin Luther King, Jr., Malcolm X, Elijah Muhammad, George Wallace, Andrew Young, Julian Bond, Stokely Carmichael, Bob Moses, James Chaney, Elaine Brown, and others reveal how the civil rights movement tested and transformed their families by John Blake.
This book of essays features the children of civil rights leaders reflecting on the changes the movement made in their families. Chosen because Freda was learning about the civil rights movement and educating her family, particularly her mother.
Sugar’s life in the hood: the story of a former welfare mother by Sugar Turner
A first person chronicle of the struggle of a welfare mother trying to raise a family, make ends meet with welfare and low paying jobs, find a relationship and avoid the pitfalls of substance abuse.  Chosen because it mirrors the struggles in Mama.
Unsung heroines: single mothers and the American dream by Ruth Sidel examines the lives of singles mothers and their needs for comprehensive healthcare, adequate childcare, and jobs at a living wage to succeed.  Chosen because these topics were relevant in the struggles Mildred Peacock faced in Mama.
Dreams to reality: help for young moms: education, career, and life choices by Laura Haskins-Bookser.
This book draws upon the real life experiences of a young teenage mother and offers advice on setting goals, and well as information on relationships, finances, college, paternity issues, job training, and travel.

Getting ghost: two young lives and the struggle for the soul of an American city by Luke Bermann
This author describes the effects of discrimination, combined with the loss of major industrial employers, focusing on the illegal drug trade and the lives of two young black drug dealers in Detroit.  Chosen because similar events happened in Mama – factories closing, difficulties finding jobs, and drug use.


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