Posted by the prisoner's wife On 8:22 PM
On rare occasions, maybe once in a lifetime a musician comes along and captures our hearts so completely that we often look to them—their music and life—for inspiration and answers. For Shay, the protagonist in Carleen Brice’s debut novel, Orange Mint and Honey, Nina Simone is that guiding force.
At the outset of the novel Shay is jobless, on the verge of getting kicked out of grad school, and at the end of her rope. In a desperate attempt to make sense of her life, she asks, “What Would Nina Do?” One night, the high priestess appears to Shay and tells her to go her home.
Although many in Shay’s predicament would be running back to the comforts of home, Shay has no fond memories of her home life to console her. Shay’s mother, a recovering alcoholic, put her through a hellish childhood, choosing men and booze over her daughter. Shay, vowing never to return to Denver, brushes off the idea until she finds herself being evicted from her apartment and forced to take a leave from school. She calls her mother, after years of not speaking, packs up her things and heads home to Denver.
Dead set on riding out her sabbatical from school by staying as far away from her mother as possible, Shay attempts to lock herself away in her room. Nona, her mother, has other ideas and wants to make amends for her actions during Shay’s childhood. Shay isn’t convinced. She doesn’t buy Nona’s uber-positive outlook on life and is convinced she must still drinking. Shay searches the house for empty liquor bottles, but comes up empty. One night she sees Nona in her garden and is convinced that that is where she must be hiding the bottles, but soon learns that Nona has traded drinking for gardening.
Growth and change is a central theme of the novel. Shay’s bitterness over her mother’s past actions threatens to undermine the positive changes that Shay needs to take in her own life. She is painfully shy and blames her mother for socially stunting her growth. Her resentment toward her mother also threatens the future of their tenuous relationship. Although Nona continues to try to make amends, the possibility of reconciliation seems unlikely until a crisis hits.
In Orange Mint and Honey, Carleen Brice weaves a beautiful tale of a complicated mother-daughter relationship that is as lush and soulful as a John Coltrane sax solo, and as beautiful as a field of wild, blossoming flowers. Brice accurately captures both Shay’s and Nona’s voices as they both fight for the change they so desperately need. Brice, a cultivator of words, uses gardens as a metaphor for the cycle of life—a once barren land can become a beautiful and verdant with hard work and determination. Orange Mint and Honey is a captivating story that is sure to keep you turning the pages and wishing for more.