Top positive review
Strong to Stronger
Reviewed in the United States on August 27, 2019
I had to think about this book for a couple of days before I felt like I could really review it. I gave it four stars because I think the story was wonderfully told, but to be honest, my heart was breaking for those three little girls. I didn’t know if I should hate their mother just as Big Mama did, or if I should open myself up to forgive her like only a child in want of her mother can. I didn’t know if I should cringe at the rebellious spirit that was being born into those three small children, or if I should celebrate their lessons in standing up for yourself and being confident and who you are. I did not know if I should feel anger at the shame that Delphine felt for always being obedient and responsible, or if I should feel shame with her own acceptance of her circumstances—the oldest sibling, Big Mama’s helper, responsible for everyone around her. However, as I went back through my highlights, I found a quote that helped put this story in perspective: “With Cassius Clay you hear the clash of fists, like the plane getting jabbed and punched. With Muhammad Ali you see a mighty mountain, greater than Everest, and can’t no one knock down a mountain.” This is found at the beginning of the story when Delphine is reflecting on how Big Mama cannot make herself refer to Cassius Clay as Muhammad Ali. Delphine does realize that while the name from before brought forth strong imagery, the new name was even stronger. What changed? His presentation of himself.
Changing of names and civil revolution were big themes in the story. Big Mama was unable to change how Southerners viewed her as a black woman, so she taught her grandchildren to respect others and to not rock the boat. While in California with their own mother, they learn to respect others but stand up for your rights; rock the boat peacefully. Their real mother was trying to shake the past and present herself differently by giving herself a new name, but she was still weak until she learns to not hide her past from those who should be closest to her. Big Mama is not a weak character; she is a strong presence to deal with and can come off as harsh at times, but through the eyes of the three sisters, you know that she loves them a great deal. Delphine appeared to be strong at the beginning, but as she goes through the hardships of living with a mom who is neglectful for 28 days, you realize that she is not as strong as she can be.
I think that contrast between acceptance and revolution made me struggle through the majority of the text. I felt like the Black Panthers and the events in California made Delphine and the girls looks small and weak; they made it seem that Big Mama and Papa were wrong, but now I know that was not necessarily the case. The love, support, acceptance, and lessons learned from the family that was present in Delphine’s life was foundational to what she learned in California. In California, she learned that she would not always have Big Mama and Papa to shelter them from the negative views of society; she was fully exposed to the racism and to the cajoling of those who felt like they were not racist (the woman who forces them to take nickels, the man who tries to finish his film roll by taking their picture, the group in Chinatown who takes their picture because they are black girls in Chinatown). She had to take the lessons of respect from her Papa and Big Mama and apply them to hose hard situations but then go a step further by standing up for herself and her sisters.
She began to lose authority over her siblings, but she still held their respect and was allowed to be more like the eleven year old child that she was. Those who represented violence and hatred as revolutionary weapons became weak and cowardly by the end. Those who promoted respect were strong, but the strongest were those who knew how to take it a step further and ask respectfully for respect back; Not with a sashay of hips as you walk away from being told no and a noticeably fake thank you, but with your head held high and a sincere thank you for taking the time to allow me to voice my concerns and opinions even though they were not accepted and then move on to the next person until there are many that are of one mind. I think Big Mama would be proud of that change in her girls, and I imagine that is exactly what Papa hoped for when he sent his children from NY to CA to get to know a mama that abandoned her three daughters when the eldest was around five years old. However, I was glad when they boarded their plane to return to the safety of Papa and Big Mama’s house.