Review: God Help the Child by Toni Morrison

Author: Toni Morrison

Published: April 21, 2015

Rating: 3.5 STARS

Adult Fiction | 178 pages | Published by Knopf

Amazon | Goodreads

This review was previously featured in Emily’s blog at Emily Read Everything. It was my very first guest post, which was very exciting and I want to thank her for the opportunity. If anyone else is interested in having me as a guest poster/reviewer, just let me know!

 God Help the Child opens explosively with writing that showcases how easily Toni Morrison is able to transition into the 21st century. The first two chapters are told from the perspectives of two of the novel’s most important characters, Sweetness and Bride. These two women are mother and daughter, and their complex, unsavory relationship is expertly depicted by Morrison in her typical evocative and incisive language. Unfortunately, the promise of a grand and significant novel that we may have expected after such thrilling opening is not fully realized by story’s end.

We come to know “Sweetness” by that name because she was ashamed of her daughter’s deep blue-black skin and dreaded the day Lula Ann (aka Bride) would call her “mother” or “Mama” in public. Sweetness distanced herself from her daughter the moment she was born, claiming something was “really wrong” because she was “so black it scared me.” This abhorrent attitude never lets up and ultimately warps Bride’s understanding of love and relationships during her childhood. It left her so hungry for affection that she would make mistakes deliberately and used to “pray she would slap my face or spank me just to feel her touch.” She was so desperate for her mother’s approval, in fact, that it drove Bride to accuse an innocent woman of a horrendous crime that left her imprisoned for fifteen years.

God Help the Child by Toni MorrisonBride eventually recognized her self-worth and left her mother as soon as she turned eighteen and never looked back. Unfortunately, her formative years had been poisoned by her mother’s rejection. Bride actively fights that fear of rejection every day of her life and has emerged the victor most of her adult life. This is evident in her success in both business and sexual conquests — but the moment her most recent lover, Booker, rejects her, her entire world begins to crumble and the rest of the narrative unfolds.

To reiterate, after such a stirring and exhilarating start, I could not help but feel disappointed in how the rest of the novel developed. There are some interesting developments, event hints of magical realism, but the characters and setting fall flat in the end or don’t reach of their full potential.

I attempted to let God Help the Child stand on its own merit, separate from Toni Morrison the artist and her status as a literary figure. When I do so, I am left wanting. Only Bride is a fully developed character, the rest of the cast remains mysterious, their complexities unknown. Some are even gratuitous filler. Moreover, the language can be sparse at times and the setting is often vague and unimaginative. With a modern day setting, Morrison could have done so much to make God Help the Child a fully realized work of fiction to rival her past work. The potential was there, the subject matter was powerful and relevant but the end result was merely satisfactory, especially under the shadow of Morrison’s previous masterpieces.

23 thoughts on “Review: God Help the Child by Toni Morrison

    1. Agree. It was my first modern Toni Morrison novel and I was hoping to be blown away by it like I was by her older work.

      I still liked it, though, and hope Morrison can bless the literary world with ha few more novels in her lifetime.

  1. I’ve only read a couple of books by Toni Morrison, Beloved and Solomon’s Song. Both were excellent. Solomon’s Song was especially amazing, I thought, especially in the way Morrison totally got me to side with one character when there was a chapter from their POV, then she completely changed my mind on the issue when I read it from another character’s POV. Not sure if that makes sense, but anyway, too bad God Help the Child wasn’t her best.

    1. Do you Watch Game of Thrones? If you do, then you know that the show is popular for being able to humanize characters we thought were villains, and eventually we may even begin to like or sympathize with them.

      That’s what Toni Morrison is so good at as well. Especially in The Bluest Eye. Even the vilest of of people is rendered human and sympathetic under Morrison’s pen .

    1. I tried to convince myself that the modernity wasn’t the reason this book didn’t meet my expectations. I almost managed to do it!

      But honestly, I really did want Morrison to write a fantastic novel in a modern setting. She is already a legend in the literary world, but if she had written a masterpiece of modern fiction, she could have become timeless.

    1. Did you enjoy The Bluest Eye (in the gut-wrenching way one is able to read a Morrison novel?). If so, perhaps read some of her older work first. While God Help the Child was good, there are many other works of hers that are superior — Song of Solomon, Beloved, Tar Baby, to name a few.

  2. I’ve read about half the Morrison ‘canon’ 🙂 and I do prefer that to her newer works so far. But somehow I ended up really liking Love, though I studied that in grad school and sometimes really diving into a work makes me enjoy it even if the reading experience per se was only okay. I am hoping I’ll like this one, too, but I’ll temper my expectations 🙂

  3. This book sounds really in depth and emotional! It’s to bad it fell flat for you! I may add it to my TBR though, see if some more positive reviews pop up that get me excited to read it. btw Nazahet, I was wondering… All your social media links – how they scroll up and down your page – is that a widget?? and if so which one? I’m in the process of revamping my blog and I’d love to have my social media links so accessible!

    1. Hi, Amy. You can call me Naz 🙂

      I really did enjoy this book. 3.5 is a good score, and I just noticed that my review was more negative than I intended it to be! Hah. Definitely do read Toni Morrison, though. Any of her books will do!

      As for the social media icons. I have a self-hosted website and I downloaded the “Ultimate Social Media PLUS” plugin and installed it to my website. It’s awesome, isn’t it!?

      Hope that helps!

      1. AHH I was hoping you weren’t going to say it’s a plugin haha! Guess I’ll have to miss out 🙁 And yes it’s really awesome!!

          1. Yeah, blogs hosted by wordpress don’t have plugins. If I’d run my wordpress blog through a self hosted website when I first started it I would have been able to get plugins, but since I knew absolutely nothing blogs and how they ran back then I didn’t know that little tidbit and so now I miss out. I don’t really mind to much, but I have some across some really awesome plugins I’d love to make part of my blog but cant!

  4. An excellent review! Perfect length, the plot gist was conveyed well without spoilers, and what you liked and didn’t like came across very clearly.

    Oh wait, we’re talking about Morrison, not grading reviews —

    Beloved was the best book I read in 2014. It’s still the only Morrison I’ve ever read though. I’m a bit disappointed that God Help the Child’s reception has been lukewarm; I had wanted to make it my second Morrison novel. Which novels of Morrison have you read and which one do you recommend as my second Morrison?

    1. Thank you for reading my review! I really appreciate it. 🙂 I usually read bloggers’ entire reviews because I know they worked hard on them so they deserve my full attention.

      Anyway, God Help the Child was was still a good book, I still enjoyed of despite its flaws. It was also very short so I wasn’t disappoint for very long!

      I have read Sula, Tar Baby, Song of Solomon, and The Bluest Eye. You should read The Bluest Eye – it’s my personal favorite.

      1. I know what you mean. I always try to leave thoughtful comments as a sign of appreciation as well.

        Thanks for the input! I really like The Bluest Eye’s plot blurb so I’m quite likely to search for it sometime soon.

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