Spare and unsparing, God Help the Child—the first novel by Toni Morrison to be set in our current moment—weaves a tale about the way the sufferings of childhood can shape, and misshape, the life of the adult.
Spare and unsparing, God Help the Child is a searing tale about the way childhood trauma shapes and misshapes the life of the adult. At the center: a woman who calls herself Bride, whose stunning blue-black skin is only one element of her beauty, her boldness and confidence, her success in life; but which caused her light-skinned mother to deny her even the simplest forms of love until she told a lie that ruined the life of an innocent woman, a lie whose reverberations refuse to diminish … Booker, the man Bride loves and loses, whose core of anger was born in the wake of the childhood murder of his beloved brother … Rain, the mysterious white child, who finds in Bride the only person she can talk to about the abuse she’s suffered at the hands of her prostitute mother … and Sweetness, Bride’s mother, who takes a lifetime to understand that “what you do to children matters. And they might never forget.”
“When I woke up I reminded myself that freedom is never free. You have to fight for it. Work for it and make sure you are able to handle it. Now”
I recently saw the trailer for Toni Morrison: The Pieces I Am which comes out next month — which let me tell you, I’m so excited for — seeing Toni talking about her career and her life made me want to revisit some of her books.
God Help the Child follows Bride, she is a successful, beautiful, confident, and quite shallow woman. Bride was born with deep blue-black skin. Though Bride and the woman she has become is a direct reflection of her childhood and the trauma that she went through at such a young age. Bride isn’t as put together as she portrays herself to be, this is frustrating to watch because she doesn’t even realize it herself. We watch as Bride puts herself in bad situations, surround herself amongst people with ill intentions, and ruin relationships, all without her realizing what she’s doing and then being shocked when things blow up in her face. She moves throughout the story without a clue, until one day, she wakes up and she’s not the woman she painstakingly made herself become.
This leads Bride on a rollercoaster ride of self discovery and awareness. From the moment she is brought forth into the world she has been an outcast. She’s been denied love and affection, has been alienated, and scorned. It’s this treatment that has shaped her into who she is. At first it’s hard to get a grasp on who she is and why she acts the way she does, which is frankly just freaking childish at times, but as you read and get a more backstory you realize she’s hurt, fractured, haunted by a lifetime of trauma that she just can’t let go of.
Though, God Help the Child is Bride’s story we also get glimpses into the lives of other characters, but like Rain. Rain is a little girl who is like Bride in a way, suffering from trauma that she can’t quite put a name to. These two have an instant connection. A connection built on shared trauma and understanding. We also follow Booker, who is the object of Bride’s affection. Booker is haunted by the murder of his Brother. Bride and Booker are a volatile pair. They danced around each other, making sure not to poke to hard, or get too close with each other. Their relationship is complicated, and not entirely healthy. But, yet they compliment each other. I honestly don’t know if I should root for them or not.
God Help the Child, Is a hard book to read in terms of characters and subject, Toni Morrison is always going to be the type of author that makes you uncomfortable, who forces you to see all the ugly things we want shield our eyes from. God Help the Child might not be my favorite Morrison book, but it was a damn good book. It broke my heart and made me examine EVERYTHING, my copy is littered with annotations and dog-eared pages. If you’ve never read anything by Toni Morrison I encourage you to do so!
Trigger warnings: Discrimination, molestation, pedophilia, bullying, racism, murder, & use of the word tr*nny.