Maame (ma-meh) has many meanings in Twi but in my case, it means woman.
It’s fair to say that Maddie’s life in London is far from rewarding. With a mother who spends most of her time in Ghana (yet still somehow manages to be overbearing), Maddie is the primary caretaker for her father, who suffers from advanced stage Parkinson’s. At work, her boss is a nightmare and Maddie is tired of always being the only Black person in every meeting.
When her mum returns from her latest trip to Ghana, Maddie leaps at the chance to get out of the family home and finally start living. A self-acknowledged late bloomer, she’s ready to experience some important “firsts”: She finds a flat share, says yes to after-work drinks, pushes for more recognition in her career, and throws herself into the bewildering world of internet dating. But it’s not long before tragedy strikes, forcing Maddie to face the true nature of her unconventional family, and the perils—and rewards—of putting her heart on the line.
Smart, funny, and deeply affecting, Jessica George’s Maame deals with the themes of our time with humor and poignancy: from familial duty and racism, to female pleasure, the complexity of love, and the life-saving power of friendship. Most important, it explores what it feels like to be torn between two homes and cultures―and it celebrates finally being able to find where you belong.
“Meeting Maame feels like falling in love for the first time: warm, awkward, joyous, a little bit heartbreaking and, most of all, unforgettable.” —Xochitl Gonzalez, New York Times bestselling author of Olga Dies Dreaming
Reading Maame reopened old wounds and felt sad, hopeful and cathartic at the same time.
I decided to listen to Maame after seeing many readers boasting about the book. I had a vague idea about the plot but didn’t really know what to expect.
Right after finishing the book that made me alternatively annoyed, rolling my eyes and then slowly crying my heart out, I looked for Jessica George’s life experience. The tone in that book felt so authentic that I couldn’t help but think the author drew inspiration from her own life.
What’s Maame about?
Maame is about the impact of a nickname on your life.
It’s about complicated family relationship and sense of duty. It’s about love for your kin. How it can weight you down or lift you up. And it’s about discovering life, all written in a conversational tone that leaves room for the reader to breathe.
In Maame, we follow 25 years old Maddie. She is a late bloomer as she has yet to experience many “first” in life.
First real job, first boyfriend, living on her own, first night out…
Maddie’s father has advanced Parkinson disease and she has been left the prime caretaker. Her mom is one year in Ghana, one year in London. Her big brother never answers before the second call and is always traveling.
Being nicknamed “Maame” meaning wife or woman from a young age has pushed Maddie into the role of the responsible and dutiful daughter. The one caring and thinking for others.
“We grow up fast. Not by force, but because we are needed.’ ‘I think sometimes we’re needed for the wrong reasons.”
She adores her dad and puts much care in helping him with his Parkinson but she can’t help resent her mom and brother for leaving her all that responsibility.
She wants a life. She wants to feel light. Because Maddie feels so heavy. And sad.
That sadness is a living thing in this story. I wished for Maddie to find joy. But before becoming light again, she’ll have to go on a whole journey and take care of her mental health, acknowledging that after something dramatic happened that hurt her deeply, she might well face the new Maddie.
“Thing is, you don’t ever go back Maddie, to life before, and my advice is to accept that. To accept that you’re not the same person you were (…) and you can’t be again. Accept that your life is different now because of this monumental, irreversible change and that it’s okay to feel guilty one day and indescribable happiness another. This is life now. This is how you live.”
I said that story has a conversational tone to it, like reading a journal, and I won’t lie: at the beginning I was feeling bored and annoyed. Maddie’s life for all her unfortunate predicament felt pretty boring to read about.
But then, slowly, thanks to lots of room left for the reader to experience everything through Maddie’s eyes, I began falling for Maddie, realizing all the depth of that story.
If you have funny moments, like Maddie living her life thanks to Google’s advice on “When do you have sex for the first time?” , or “What is expected from a third date” etc you also have deep topics like :
–culture representation and home. Where is your home? Is it defined by your roots and DNA or is it where you are born and live? I also really loved learning more about Ghana and its culture;
–racism. Maddie is tired of being the only black woman at work, among friends. Tired of the misconception and expectations.
“Everyone talks about the importance of standing out but never the benefits of fitting in.”
–being a people pleaser and hating to disappoint others, even at the risk of missing out on your life;
–grief. That made me google (in true Maddie’s fashion) Jessica George because that part resonated the most with me. And Jessica did a fantastic job explaining grief, how it affects people, how we have to go through it.
To conclude, I’d say that I began Maame bored and ended it with puffy eyes and a smile.
Thanks for reading!