Synopsis: A seventeen-year-old taken from her mother at birth, an Episcopal priest with a daughter whose face he cannot bear to see, a mother weary of searching for her lost child: Tea by the Sea is their story-that of a family uniting and unraveling. To find the daughter taken from her, Plum Valentine must find the child’s father who walked out of a hospital with the day-old baby girl without explanation. Seventeen years later, weary of her unfruitful search, Plum sees an article in a community newspaper with a photo of the man for whom she has spent half her life searching. He has become an Episcopal priest. Her plan: confront him and walk away with the daughter he took from her. From Brooklyn to the island of Jamaica, Tea by the Sea traces Plum’s circuitous route to find her daughter and how Plum’s and the priest’s love came apart. – Goodreads
Dear Donna Hemans, in the words of Mariah Carey, “You got me feeling emotions”.
This book pulled at my heartstrings. It got me right in the beginning when I realised that the parts that took place in Jamaica were set on my side of the island. Whenever I read a book that’s set in Jamaica I get excited, but it hits different when it’s set near where you live, where you can identify almost every place. It makes it feel even more real. Then at the end, Donna disturbed my peace! Those final moments, that conclusion had me laughing and yelling at my Kindle. I was pressed! I’d re-read it for that ending alone.
Donna Hemans has written a book that deals with and accurately depicts grief, abandonment, agency and hope.
In terms of grief, let me just share that when I was younger, there was an incident at a family trip to Dunn’s River Falls where a complete stranger walked away with my younger brother. Luckily my dad spotted them and got him back. This doesn’t come up in conversation a whole lot but the times that is has, my mother’s face, her entire demeanor changes. The grief that she still feels over what could have happened has never really left her. That expression is what I pictured on Plum’s face face the entire time I was reading her story. To lose her child and to know that the person she loved, the person she felt was the only person left in the world on her side was the one responsible, left her without a word and without a trace, I can’t even imagine. This grief was so well conveyed by the author.
In terms of abandonment, through both Plum and Lenworth, we see how they feel that they have been abandoned by their families. In Plum’s case in a tale as old as time, she was shipped off to Jamaica at the first sign of possible trouble. Lenworth’s family was abandoned by his father who left for foreign and never returned, only letting the family he was still alive by sending sporadic packages. He feels abandoned again by his own mother who sends him to live with another family so he can get a good education and a better chance in life in exchange for being a yard boy. Later on in life, he watches his mother and sister waiting for these men to send the barrel from abroad but they themselves never return. We see these two abandoned souls find each other and fall in love (which I’m not okay with, he is 24 and her tutor, she is 17) and we see how they react to and process their abandonment issues in different ways. One longs to have a family that they will never leave, the other repeats the cycle, leaving the other to have to deal with being abandoned once more. We even see how this pattern begins to to repeat itself and affect Opal. Nothing like some good ol’ fashioned generational trauma.
The theme of abandonment leads us to the theme of agency which was mentioned quite a bit throughout the book. Plum and Lenworth want to feel like they are responsible for their own lives, like they have their own agency. In his mind, Lenworth convinces himself (or tries to at least) that by taking his and Plum’s child and leaving, that Plum would now be able to achieve everything she has ever wanted for herself. Unfortunately, by doing so, he took away her agency, he chose a life for Plum that she didn’t want or ask for. For decades, her life, her relationships, her marriage, her motherhood are all affected by Lenworth’s actions.
Through it all though, Plum never loses that crucial feeling of hope. She doesn’t doubt that she will find Lenworth and her daughter and to his credit, Lenworth doesn’t either.
I have to commend the author on these characters. Plum was written so well. I felt all of her emotions. No spoilers but that final scene at the dining table in Lenworth’s home, I was so invested. I could feel myself getting angry with her, I was talking to my Kindle lol.
As for Lenworth…bwooooy. Ah him seh Frighten Friday. Ah Lenworth seh, duppy know who fi frighten. Why won’t these Jamaican female authors let me root for Jamaican men? Lol. It rough enuh. I started off not agreeing with Lenworth’s actions but trying to see the positive, the nobility in them but for me, he was a coward. A coward who would not openly admit to his mistakes and confront and atone for his past. He was a coward until the very end. People might say I’m being harsh, tell me to look at his story but sorry no, I cyaan root for this man. Lenworth in his head always knew what the right thing to do was and he always chose to do the wrong thing for his own selfish reasons. Maybe as time passes I’ll think about him differently but for now, he needed Jesus, which is funny because he became a priest. What a well written waste man.
Alright, lemme get out of my feelings now. I definitely recommend this book, I think it’s a good choice for Read Caribbean. Go read it and slide into my DM’s so we can bitch about Lenworth together 🙂
Thanks to Rachel Gul at Red Hen Press for including me on the blog tour for this book, my first ever blog tour. Also, check out my Instagram to see details on you can win a copy of this book.
Til next time 🙂