Becky’s One Hundred and Forty-Nine Book Review: “Mother, Mother” by Koren Zailckas

“Mother, Mother” by Koren Zailckas is one of the more disturbing books that I have ever read. That being said, it was a really good read. I’m not sure why exactly having a happy, loving childhood makes me enjoy reading disturbing books so much. I certainly was not disappointed by what I got when I picked up “Mother, Mother”.

Two siblings, William Hurst and Violet Hurst, narrate the book each doing a chapter at a time. I really enjoy this writing technique because I am able to learn how differently each character feels about the same situation and the same people. It was especially interesting to read this book from the perspective of two siblings since the ‘villain’ in the story changes depending on who is narrating. Violet’s villain is their mother, Josephine. William’s villain changes a few times between their older sister Rose who ran away, or their father Douglas, or his sister Violet, or whichever person comes into the story with the goal of separating him from his mother.

William is home schooled because of his recent diagnosis of Asperger’s and epileptic seizers and is very loyal to his mother. Their relationship is a little icky at times. Even though he has been diagnosed with special needs, the amount of babying that his mother does is excessive. She does everything from choosing his clothes, to cutting up his food, to flossing his teeth, to helping him pull up his pants after going to the bathroom. There is a difference between helping someone who needs assistance and making sure that they are completely dependent on you.

Violet is considered the screw-up in the family. She does drugs, she goes through different phases of religious worship, she starves herself, and her most significant rebellion, she doesn’t just do what her mother tells her to do. When we first meet her, she had been hospitalized because she had a psychotic breakdown after doing ‘seeds’. (Having done zero research on this, I am not sure if this is really a thing or not but Violet takes morning glory seeds with the intention of having a hallucinatory experience, similar to LSD). During her drug trip, Violet allegedly cuts William’s hand with a knife that she was waving around. Violet has no memory of doing this or of anything else that went on during the drug trip that resulted in her being locked up. “She’d been evicted from her life and – shitty as her life had been, willing as she had been to throw it away – that still sucked. Hospital life didn’t feel like living. It felt like an airport, some dehumanizing, transitional space where the flights were delayed and most people treated each other with less care than they gave their luggage.” (Mother, Mother, pg 183). Violet has to find a way to determine what happened the night that Will got hurt and what her mother was making up. Her father was blackout drunk that night and doesn’t have a clue. It isn’t until Violet informs him that CPS (child protective services) came to see her in the hospital that he begins asking questions.

It was surreal reading about a father so removed from his home life that he didn’t know CPS had come to the house and didn’t know what happened the night that his daughter had a psychotic break down. It was ridiculous how easily Josephine was able to manipulate her husband to her side or easily blame him for missing something. Josephine is the worst kind of mother and I think that Zailckas did a fantastic job displaying that over and over again. “Violet felt for her father in his confusion, she really did, because she was beginning to understand why it had once felt so good to be thinner than the skeleton in her science classroom. Those old symptoms – that twisting pain in her stomach, the migraine headaches, the heart palpitations, the dizzy feeling that made the whole world look like it was positioned on a slant – had been comforting because she’d known exactly what caused them: lack of food. By comparison, life before starvation was agony without logic, bafflement without any identifiable cause.” (Mother, Mother, pg 169)

Would I recommend this book? Absolutely I would recommend it, but not to everyone. I think that the disturbing nature of “Mother, Mother” would turn a lot of people off from reading it. That being said, it is a really well written book that I could not put down. As long as the topic itself doesn’t turn you away, I think this book would appeal to anyone. I am definitely going to get my hands on more of Koren Zailckas writing when I have the chance.

I received this book from Blogging for Books in exchange for this review


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