Maame by Jessica George is the story of Maddie Wright, a young 25 year old living in London who doesn’t know who she is and lives a less than rewarding life. She’s currently in a job she hates, and is the primary caretaker of her father who has late stage Parkinson’s. Her brother James moved out years ago, and her mother alternates one year at a time between London and Ghana – she’s presently in Ghana. Maddie has no idea what she wants to do with her life but is aware that her current setup is not it. At the same time, Maddie feels stuck in trying to move her life forward given that she doesn’t want to risk leaving her dad.
Maddie’s mother is planning her return from Ghana to London and encourages Maddie to move out. She jumps at the chance though feels incredibly guilty about leaving her sick father. Regardless, she does it and sets out to start her life as the “new Maddie.” She finds a flatshare with two other girls, Jo and Cam, and decides to push herself to experience some important “firsts” like nights out with friends, and dating. As she slowly moves through becoming a different version of Maddie, the version she thinks she should be by now, she struggles with feelings of guilt of having left her father behind despite her mother’s encouragement.
Maddie’s feelings of guilt grow when tragedy strikes her family. As Maddie is consumed by overwhelming grief, she’s still expected to take on most, if not all, the responsibility of the funeral arrangements. Conflict arises between her and her mother where Maddie finally gets fed up with how she’s being treated and is honest with her mother and her brother about the burden she’s been unfairly carrying on her own this whole time.
Common Themes + Opinions:
The overarching theme that is present in the entire story is Maddie’s depression. I knew Maddie was depressed before I even finished the first chapter. She’s incredibly unhappy with her life and feels guilty about “abandoning” her father in an effort to live her life. Given that her mother and brother aren’t around, she lacks support from anyone outside of her two distant friends to figure out her life and how to balance caring for her dad with the things that she wants to do.
Maddie spends the majority of the book in denial about her depression, seeing it as just temporary sadness and then just grief. She invalidates her own feelings as depression because she doesn’t think she has it that bad, others have it worse, she’s just sad and unhappy, etc. There’s no measuring bar for depression. While most people experience it differently, living in a constant state of sadness isn’t just being sad – there’s more to it. With time and help from a therapist, Maddie begins to understand her depression and how her past has affected her current mental state.
Alongside Maddie’s depression is the burden she carries as her father’s caretaker and the connotation of the name “maame,” which “has many meaning in Twi but in my case, it means woman;” a term of endearment her mother calls her. Maddie has grown up with her mother calling her this, and she learns that the burden she carries of being her father’s caretaker and essentially being the only responsible person in her family, is connected to the name maame.
At first, she doesn’t seem to mind the name but she eventually begins to resent it and its meaning, as its forced her to grow up before she felt ready. Her mom relies on her to be a grown up – from taking care of her father to helping her financially – while also encouraging her to become her own person. It almost doesn’t make sense and from my perspective, her mother’s repeated use of the name felt like she was guilting her into being responsible and to cater to her unrealistic expectations. She later learns that her mother was her grandfather’s maame and that she and her mother have more in common than she thought.
Final Thoughts + Ratings:
Overall, Maame by Jessica George is a fantastic read. I honestly didn’t know what to expect but I ended up identifying with Maddie quite a bit. There were parts of the story that made me feel seen, to the point where I had to put the book down and sit with my emotions. As someone who has dealt with depression, I understood what Maddie was going through. I also identified with Maddie’s cultural expectations. In Latine culture, the girls are expected to take on most of the domestic responsibility while the boys are allowed to be boys. For me personally, there are similarities in the way Maddie’s communicates with her mother and me with mine. It honestly reminded me that it’s not selfish to want to try to live my own life despite the unspoken expectations placed on me, and that I’m allowed to fight back. I was also so so ready to fight Maddie’s mom on her behalf – her condescending and entitled behavior set me off.
All in all, I give Maame five stars for the compelling and relatable story. Have you read Maame? Let me know in the comments!