Mama by Terry McMillan

Mildred Peacock is the tough, funny, feisty heroine of Mama, a survivor who’ll do anything to keep her family together.

In Mildred’s world, men come and go as quickly as her paychecks, but her five children are her dream, her hope, and her future. Not since Alice Walker’s The Color Purple has a black woman’s story been portrayed with such rich power, honesty, and love.


My Review

My middle and high school library thought only a handful of Black authors existed: Toni Morrison, Alice Walker, Alex Haley, and Terry McMillan. McMillan was the most contemporary, read out of that group therefore preteen me was always knee-deep in novels about the middle-aged Black woman’s experience.

As a pre-pubescent reader, these age-inappropriate stories by McMillan were just soap opera-level entertainment. As an adult, I realized that McMillan was covering things that are GROWN WOMEN’S problems. 

Mama was HEAVY the first time I read it. It was even heavier the second time around as I read it from the perspective of a thirty-year-old, Black mother of two. The characters struggle through everything from sexual assault, poverty, infidelity, and domestic violence in the first 150 pages. 

In Mama, McMillan captures a life not just a moment. The reader follows the main character’s evolution from a struggling young wife to an abandoned mother, a rudderless middle-aged woman, and finally as the matriarch of grown kids she still desperately wants to nudge in the right direction.

It is difficult to slip through the phases of life but McMillan does it, all while keeping the characters human. They’re frustrating, endearing, and real. 

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When Mildred hooks up with a man 10 years her junior, you know it’s a terrible idea but you can’t help but root for her. Then when she packs up and moves to a completely different state, it’s no surprise that her troubles follow but you believe she just might catch a break.

The characters read like real people, imperfect but trying just enough so that you hold your breath and hope for the best. After years of hard living and scrabbling to keep up Mildred has, what many would consider, a much-deserved and unsurprising mental breakdown.

I appreciate McMillan’s attempt to get away from the “Black women are indestructible” trope. Nobody can or should have to do it all, Black women, especially. Rather than double down on the idea of Black women being unbreakable, McMillan highlights a woman’s resilience. 

It is impossible not to think of Waiting to Exhale or How Stella Got Her Groove Back when discussing Terry McMillan. And for good reason. Those poignant stories have proven to be not only amazing novels but damn good movies. (I say that as someone who side-eyes all movie adaptations) Mama is different.

McMillan crafts a story that doesn’t feel like trauma porn but does NOT shy away from the hardships of poverty and womanhood.

She reminds us that parents are people first. It also highlights that even with all of their flaws, so many mothers do their very best to build everyone else up while still constructing their own sense of self.   

Sistah Girls, if you’ve read Mama, let me know what you thought of the book in the comments.



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