“A seventeen-year-old taken from her mother at birth, an Episcopal priest with a daughter whose face he cannot bear to see, a mother weary of searching for her lost child: Tea by the Sea is their story-that of a family uniting and unraveling. To find the daughter taken from her, Plum Valentine must find the child’s father who walked out of a hospital with the day-old baby girl without explanation. Seventeen years later, weary of her unfruitful search, Plum sees an article in a community newspaper with a photo of the man for whom she has spent half her life searching. He has become an Episcopal priest. Her plan: confront him and walk away with the daughter he took from her. From Brooklyn to the island of Jamaica, Tea by the Sea traces Plum’s circuitous route to find her daughter and how Plum’s and the priest’s love came apart”
The first thing that comes to mind is – a rollercoaster. But it is much more than that. Donna Hemans creates a story that shows the manifestations and repercussions of trauma related to loss, grief, and abandonment. Plum wakes up in a hospital to the news that her lover, Lenworth, has left the hospital with their newborn. From there, we go on a ride through both of their lives, navigating alongside them how to rebuild themselves.
Plum’s loss is an almost tangible entity, as we follow her trying to find Lenworth and her daughter. Even as she slowly loses hope, choosing a more sure life, we can’t but want to see her, and her daughter reunited. With such an open setup, it isn’t hard to believe that Lenworth is just the absolute scum of the earth. Hemans explores his inner thoughts and reasonings in such a convincing way that there’s no way you’d choose to empathize with him. Creating such an unlikeable character – even with his backstory and actions – is a feat. He isn’t unlikeable for the sake of it but rather, a product of his life and upbringing. Hemans never excuses the behaviour (nor does anyone really) but instead explores agency. Having agency over one’s life is a theme that is a staple in the book. Even the differences between Plum and Lenworth, their contrast, explores the sacrifices one can (not necessarily having to) make to exercise that control. Plum, in most turns of her life, loses her agency without really knowing why she had to. It’s hard not to sympathize with her, rooting for the compromises she forced herself to make for a “happy life”.
Lenworth – even writing his name raises my blood pressure – is a man that somehow represents a familiar truth. Though moral code and societal norms can influence a person, it never truly rules out your brain’s need to seek comfort and ease. Your mind is very good at justifying bad choices regardless of how difficult they’ll prove to be in the long run. This mindset is explored when we learn more of Lenworth’s home life growing up, and even in the years that follow his theft. The result of not addressing these problems manifest in his relationship with his daughter, Opal. All he can seem to think about when looking at her is Plum. He goes back and forth about the rightness of his choices without really communicating with Opal the way a growing child needs and deserves.
Hemans explores interpersonal relationships very well in this book. She truly captured how hard the concept of individualism is when life ultimately happens in societies. Lives are undeniably interlaced with others. The choices we make for ourselves never affect only us. Even in the best of intentions, you risk taking away someone else’s ability to choose and act upon their own wants and needs. This story will make you talk to your copy, shouting and pleading with characters. It will also force you to truly think about how you choose to live your life and what you’re willing to compromise/sacrifice to do so.
Thanks to Rachel Gul at Red Hen Press for including me and my blog on the blog! Also, check out my Instagram to see details on how you can win a copy of this book.
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