#BookReview: Coffee Killed My Mother

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Blurb

Anna Lee is an anxious 17-year-old whose life is stuck, largely because of her strained relationship with her mother Jacqueline, a quirky recovering alcoholic who is now addicted to coffee. The two take off on a trip to explore independent coffee shops along the east coast, but Jacqueline’s real agenda is an opportunity to reveal a series of disturbing family secrets to Anna Lee–a twin that died in utero, a fatal drunk driving accident, an abusive parent, and her mother’s betrayal of a woman Anna Lee holds dear.

My Review

Donna Koros Stramella’s debut novel, Coffee Killed My Mother, is a finely crafted coming-of-age story, a daughter’s journey of discovery with her mother. Their journey is set in motion by a seemingly impulsive notion on the mother’s part to go on a quest for the best coffee shops on the East Coast. The trip soon turns into something much more.

A prologue opens the book with a fragment of memory: the crash of broken glass, a fear of dying, a mother unresponsive on the couch. As the narrative continues and the memories become more complete, we learn that the first-person narrator is a seventeen-year-old girl named Anna Lee, and her mother, Jacqueline, is a sixty-one-year-old recovering alcoholic.

Stramella’s adept use of a first-person narrator works well to convey the conflicting feelings of an adolescent forced to have fun on a road trip she didn’t want to take and doesn’t fully understand. Anna Lee tells us her story in present tense, which lends immediacy to the events as they’re unfolding. The use of first-person present tense also creates very strong narrative tension, as the reader experiences first the hints, then the revelations of a series of family secrets as Anna Lee first experiences them herself. I was compelled to keep turning the pages.

Stramella also takes full advantage of the East Coast setting, which includes Myrtle Beach and Virginia Beach: the beauty of the seaside juxtaposed with run-down beachfront hotels and coffee in paper cups, an undercurrent of disappointment and trying too hard.

As mother and daughter progress on their journey in Jacqueline’s battered red Jeep, Anna Lee’s view of her mother changes. Jacqueline goes from being an embarrassment, with her garish yellow cornrowed hair, loud clothes, and inappropriate behavior, to a fully-realized human being deserving of compassion and respect, the pain and regret from her past genuine and haunting. The transformation of Anna Lee’s perception of her mother was particularly powerful to witness because it’s the same process of revelation and reconciliation that often takes place over several years as a daughter moves through adulthood. I won’t soon forget Anna Lee and Jacqueline.

From Donna

I’ve had the title bouncing around in my head for some time, following a trip to a drive-thru for coffee and a near accident. My daughters were with me and one of them said something like, “Coffee is going to kill you, Mom.” Originally, I had a different format in mind, but as I developed the story line, I felt pulled to move in another direction. At its core, it’s a mother-daughter story. Once I started writing, the story really started to flow. The plot, the characters, the beginning, the ending–all had a natural, organic feel.

80 thoughts on “#BookReview: Coffee Killed My Mother

  1. Liz, another excellent review to match what sounds like an excellent book! Novels that take readers on a road trip and/or focus on a difficult parent-child relationship are of course plentiful, but this one seems to take a very interesting approach. And what a title!

    Liked by 3 people

  2. This sounds like a very interesting idea for a book, Liz. I’ve often wondered what it would be like to live with an alcoholic or a drug addict. I have never even met one, that I know of, in my life. I have seen a few drug addicts in the park or outside a shop but not known one in my personal life. I suppose I am very lucky. This book might help close the gap.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Oh, I do love the idea of a road trip, especially involving coffee (drinking a cup as I write this comment). Knowing the background of a book, the origin of the narrative, being introduced to the writer adds to the enjoyment of reading. You have the very very best book reviews, Liz!! Thank you.

    Liked by 3 people

  4. This sounds like a good read, Liz. I like stories where one character evolves and discovers the humanity in another. Mother/daughter (parent/child) are poignant relationships to explore in this way. Thanks for the review!

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Excellent review, Liz. I don’t generally read them, but yours are so worth the time. Just enough information to form an opinion as to yea or nay. And the writer’s thought on the inspiration are a real bonus. This is one I would like to read, having had a very difficult relationship with my mother (for very different reasons. I’m also intrigued about the use of present tense.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Excellent review of the book, Liz. It sounds very interesting. I had several clients, one was as old as 67 years old, who had alcoholic parents and they couldn’t and didn’t know how to deal with the problems. In the cases of my clients, by the time they seek help, their parents were gone.

    It’s such heartwarming to find understanding and reconciliation among parent/child relationships.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Your usual great review, have forwarded to some Book Club family members. I became quite adept at handling a coffee cup on my long-ago CSP days on I-84, circa 1974. My open book at the moment, “The Keeper of the Bees,” by Gene Straton-Porter. Bee Safe up theya.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. “The transformation of Anna Lee’s perception of her mother was particularly powerful to witness because it’s the same process of revelation and reconciliation that often takes place over several years as a daughter moves through adulthood.”

    As a daughter whose perception of her deceased mother continues to evolve, I was completely captivated by this line, Liz. You’ve given a unique story the sense of universal identification necessary to make this book appealing to someone long past her teenage years. Thanks for an intriguing review.

    Liked by 1 person

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