By Jessica George
Maddie cares for her father, who has Parkinson’s Disease. When Maddie tells him that she is moving out, she makes him a lasagna and tells him over dinner as she is feeding him. This lasagna from All Recipes is one of my favorite go-to meals. Feed your entire book club as you discuss Maame. Click here to view the recipe from All Recipes.
** Thank you to NetGalley and St. Martin’s Press for the chance to review this book. **
Maame means woman.
The book world can’t stop talking about Jessica George’s debut novel, Maame. I have been in a slump lately, so I really wanted to read something amazing so I could give a 4- or 5-star review. With all the hype surrounding Maame, I thought that this would surely be the book to get me out of my slump.
But to be fair, I’m not the target market.
Maame is about 25-year-old Maddie, who is navigating young adulthood with some pretty heavy burdens on her shoulders. She has been caring for her dad, who has Parkinson’s Disease, by herself and funding much of his care. Her mother has been living in Ghana under the guise of helping her uncle run a business. Maddie’s brother, James, is a bit of a deadweight who doesn’t offer to help often. With no one else to tend to him, Maddie takes the burden of her father’s care on herself.
At the beginning of the book, Maddie is stuck as an executive assistant for a manager who is a bit unhinged. During this time, her mother calls her and announces that she is coming back to the United States to live with Maddie’s dad, so Maddie can finally move out. She finds a flat with two roommates, Cam and Jo. Right after signing the lease, she gets fired from her job for something that was not her fault. Luckily, she finds a job at a small publishing company. She has to begin her career doing administration, but her new boss promises her that she will have opportunities to expand her career.
Around this time, Maddie also meets Ben, a handsome (and rich) man who becomes Maddie’s second boyfriend ever. Maddie is a virgin, something she attributes to her lack of a social life. She decides to sleep with Ben after a few dates. The sex hurts, but Maddie doesn’t say anything. However, this is clearly a moral failing of Ben. There is an underlying insinuation that he should have read her mind and knew she wasn’t enjoying herself, but that kind of messaging is a pet peeve of mine. I get that Maame is about Maddie’s journey to find her voice, but that doesn’t mean those around you are guilty of crimes that they are unaware that they committed in your head. Ben ends up getting caught with another woman. I think you can make a case either way on whether he was cheating on her– I mean, they never said they were exclusive, but it wasn’t a chivalrous move by any stretch of the imagination. At any rate, whether Ben is worthy of Maddie’s intense ire is up for debate.
At the tail end of Maddie and Ben’s relationship, Jo asks Maddie and Cam to go out drinking with her one night. Maddie reluctantly agrees. She wanted to stay in and bake a cake for her father’s birthday the next day, but Jo pleads with her to go. So, Maddie relents. Once out, Maddie has a couple of drinks. The group wants to move to a new location, and Maddie tells Jo that she wants to go home. Jo again pleads with her to stay, and Maddie once again relents. At the next place, Maddie proceeds to get REALLY drunk and REALLY high off edibles.
Predictably, Maddie wakes up the next day with a massive hangover. She looks at the clock. It’s 2 p.m.– well past the time when she wanted to arrive at her dad’s house for his birthday. Then, she gets a call from her mom. Maddie’s dad passed away that morning, alone because her mom had gone out to “run an errand” (aka meet another man). Maddie is torn with guilt because she knew that she might have been able to save him if she were there. When she tells her flatmates, they are sympathetic. Then, Maddie suddenly turns on Jo and blames her for keeping her out. Because Maddie had a hangover, she was not there when her dad died. Therefore, it was Jo’s fault that Maddie’s dad died alone. Jo and Maddie have an awkward relationship from then on.
The rest of the book involves lots of depression, therapy, and anger at her new job for supposedly holding her back. I could go into more detail, but honestly, I’m already tired of writing about it. Yes, Maddie gets taken advantage of by several people around her, mainly her family. Her mother and brother expect her to pay for the majority of her father’s funeral, for example. Her boss uses one of her ideas and then doesn’t involve her on the project. Her flatmates are awkward around her after Maddie blames Jo for her father’s death. But, Maddie herself is kind of a terrible person. While she is “finding her voice,” she lays false blame at every turn. I’m sorry, but your flatmate begging you to stay out does not make her responsible for your father’s death. Your job not giving a junior employee a seat at the table right away, even if you have a great idea, is not wrong. You are not experienced in your career field– expertise and seats at the table have to be earned. In fact, her boss, in my opinion, was awfully nice for not firing her when she simply stopped working after her father’s death without any communication on a return date. They even hired a psychiatrist for her to talk to once she made it back to the office. Oh, and did I mention that she started dating Jo’s casual fling and didn’t care if it hurt her? In the process of discovering her true self, Maddie does a lot of terrible things to people, yet she never seems to suffer any consequences. There is a glorification of Maddie without any acknowledgment of her poor choices. Instead, we are supposed to focus on her trauma and her newfound discovery of self. We’re supposed to yell, “Slay, boss babe!” and ignore how unfair she is being to those around her. If it improves Maddie’s life, it is an unquestionable moral good.
As I said, I am not the target market for this book. I did not read it and walk away with good feelings about dealing with personal trauma and finding your voice. Instead, I saw a lot of themes I disagree with. I believe you shouldn’t do something as morally repugnant as blame another person for your father’s death because you regret your own choices. I believe that success must be earned over a period of time. I believe that people can’t be blamed for the unspoken offenses that they have committed in your head.
The writing was good. The story was entertaining. I read most of the book believing that I would rate it highly at the end. But, as I closed the cover, I slowly discovered that I actually didn’t like it very much. It may not be a popular opinion, but it is my opinion.
My Rating System Explained 5 Stars ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️: This was an amazing book, and I can't stop thinking about it. It impacted me emotionally or changed my perspective. My thoughts keep flickering back to it at random times throughout the day. I will absolutely recommend it to my friends or to one of my book clubs. 4 Stars ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️: This was a really good book. Parts of it stuck with me, and I might mention it in a conversation. There is a high likelihood that I will recommend it to my friends or to one of my book clubs. 3 Stars ⭐️⭐️⭐️: I liked this book. It allowed me to escape from reality for a while. While I might tell somebody about it if I think it will interest them, I will probably not suggest it to one of my book clubs. 2 Stars ⭐️⭐️: There's something about this book that I didn't like. I wasn't willing to go all the way down to a one-star rating, but I'm definitely not digging it. I may recognize that this book is not for me, but it might be for other people. I will not recommend it to my friends or one of my book clubs. 1 Star ⭐️: My rarest rating. I really didn't like this book. Something in the story line upset me, and I probably "hate-read" the majority of the book. Not only will I not recommend it, but I will actively tell people that I did not like it.