God Help the Child
At the center: a young woman who calls herself Bride, whose stunning blue-black skin is only one element of her beauty, her boldness and confidence, her success in life, but which caused her light-skinned mother to deny her even the simplest forms of love. There is Booker, the man Bride loves, and loses to anger. Rain, the mysterious white child with whom she crosses paths. And finally, Bride’s mother herself, Sweetness, who takes a lifetime to come to understand that “what you do to children matters. And they might never forget.”
A fierce and provocative novel that adds a new dimension to the matchless oeuvre of Toni Morrison.
Praise For God Help the Child: A novel…
Praise for Toni Morrison’s
GOD HELP THE CHILD
“Utterly compelling . . . Morrison remains an incredibly powerful writer who commands attention.”
–Roxane Gay, The Guardian
“God Save the Child is superb, its story gliding along the tracks of Morrison’s utterly assured prose.”
–Charles Finch, USA Today (critic's pick)
“Morrison is such a masterful writer that even those who don’t prefer stream of conscious novels may find them sucked into these minds, turning page after page of this short novel until they’ve finished the book in one sitting.”
–Sarah Hutchins, Portland Book Review
“Toni Morrison [is] still breaking new literary ground . . . a readable and entrancing novel that rivals her earlier work in its powerful range of effects . . . This novel is worth reading on the strength of Morrison’s narrative talents alone. But it also makes an inviting introduction to her entire body of work. ‘God Help the Child’ finds this American legend still breaking new ground and, as always, delivering an uncompromising and memorable novel.”
–Jack Pender, Waterloo Region Record
“A wrenching tale.”
“Morrison possesses enough generosity of spirit to see a few glimmering moments of genuine hope amid the ruin, along with the intellectual heft needed to understand their context, and the graciousness to share them with us.”
–Andrew Ervin, Philadelphia Inquirer
“The prose is lean, uncluttered. Morrison’s novelistic architectures have always been exceptionally well-designed; she crafts the vessels, carefully and uniquely to each story, before pouring in the water, and God Help the Child is no exception.”
–Cleveland Plain Dealer
“[Morrison’s] powers are proudly on display in God Help the Child. At its best, this new novel demonstrates that the author is, as she suggested recently in a New York Times Magazine profile, fully capable of writing novels forever.”
“A searing, lyrical story . . . Even Morrison's minor characters are complex, intriguing people deserving of closer inspection, and as Bride's journey acquires a momentum of its own, the magnetism of her troubles pulls the reader along . . . Beautifully composed in a variety of distinct voices and covering a range of family concerns, God Help the Child employs a hint of magical realism and explores issues of race and women's lives familiar to fans of Morrison's fiction. The story of Bride's life and trials is sensual, both delicate and strong, poetic and heavy with sex, love and pain, exemplifying a revered author's unfailing talent.
“With ‘God Help Help the Child,’ Morrison gives us an unflinching look at the wounds that adults can inflict on children with life-altering consequences . . . By the final page, ‘God Help the Child’ reminds us that few authors can deliver exquisitely written prose as Morrison.”
–Patrik Bass, Essence.com
“A slim, modest work that still manages to pack an emotional wallop.”
“Another unflinching, gorgeously written story.”
–San Francisco Chronicle
“Every page contains at least one passage of breathtaking prose, a lyrical flow accentuated by stark imagery and laden with poetic contrasts.”
–Dallas Morning News
“Morrison has a Shakespearean sense of tragedy, and that gift imbues God Help the Child. The ending is exquisite, bringing to mind Gwendolyn Brooks' wonderful lines: ‘Art hurts. Art urges voyages -- and it is easier to stay at home.’”
“A book to be read twice at a minimum — the first time for the story, and the second time to savor the language, the gems of phrasing and the uncomfortable revelations about the human capacity both to love and destroy.”
“Succinct but beautiful, with a powerful message that will reach readers of all demographics, because frankly, we all have things in our pasts we'd like to change. The power is not in time travel; the power is in realizing we must move on and push forward to succeed.”
“Morrison . . . proved with God Help the Child that her writing is still as fresh, adventurous and vigorous as ever . . . Morrison’s characteristically deft temporal she fits and precisely hones language deliver literary riches galore. And which this novel is very readable, the pleasure is in working for its deeper rewards.”
“Like a Picasso painting telling a story in a multi-dimensional series of superimposed snapshot as each character becomes ever more rounded and complete.”
–Independent on Sunday
“Not for nothing has Morrison been garlanded with a Novel Prize, Pulitzer and National Book Critics Circle Award. There’s always a sense of grand occasion when Morrison releases a book, and with good reason: the journey is always vivid, dazzling and rich, each paragraph a mealy morsel in its own right. A highly personal and affecting tale that manages to be deftly political, God Help the Child is emotionally rousing and gut-wrenching.”
“True to style, the Nobel and Pulitzer Prize-winning Morrison uses simple yet poetic prose as she tackles timely issues in a timeless way.”
–Big Issue in the North
“Powerful . . . attests to her ability to write intensely felt chamber pieces that inhabit a twilight world between fable and realism, and to convey the desperate yearnings of her characters for safety and love and belonging . . . Writing with gathering speed and assurance as the book progresses, Ms. Morrison works her narrative magic, turning the Ballad of Bride and Booker into a tale that is as forceful as it is affecting, as fierce as it is resonant.”
–Michiko Kakutani, The New York Times
“Toni Morrison is one of the gods who walk among us. A righteous, fearless teller of necessary truths . . . sensually written and commanding.”
–Elissa Schappell, Vanity Fair, May 2015
“It is a beautiful thing to watch Morrison move characters through the full range of human emotion and into cathartic transformation. Here, Morrison shows us the importance of not holding on to what needs to be put down; the necessity of forgiveness, the necessity of beginning again.”
–Hope Wabuke, The Root
“Nobel laureate Morrison continues to add to her canon of eloquent, brilliantly conceived novels defining the crises and cultural shifts of our times . . . Yet another finely distilled masterpiece.”
–Jane Ciabattari, BBC
“Powerful portraits in lean prose . . . . The pieces all fit together seamlessly in a story about beating back the past, confronting the present, and understanding one’s worth.”
–Barbara Hoffert, Library Journal, (starred review)
“Sly, savage, honest, and elegant . . . . Morrison spikes elements of realism and hyperrealism with magic and mayhem, while sustaining a sexily poetic and intoxicating narrative atmosphere . . . . Once again, Morrison thrillingly brings the storytelling moxie and mojo that make her, arguably, our greatest living novelist.”
–Lisa Shea, ELLE Magazine
“A chilling oracle and a lively storyteller, Nobel winner Morrison continues the work she began 45 years ago with The Bluest Eye.”
–Kirkus (Starred Review)
“Another dazzler from Nobel laureate Morrison.”
–Barbara Hoffert’s Fiction Picks, Library Journal
“Emotionally-wrenching . . . [Morrison’s] literary craftsmanship endures with sparse language, precise imagery, and even humor. This haunting novel displays a profound understanding of American culture and an unwavering sense of justice and forgiveness.”
–Publishers Weekly (Starred Review)
Knopf, 9780307594174, 192pp.
Publication Date: April 21, 2015
About the Author
Conversation Starters from ReadingGroupChoices.com
1. Morrison opens God Help the Child with a character insisting, “It’s not my fault. So you can’t blame me.” How does this set up what follows?
2. Multiple themes weave through the novel: childhood trauma, racism, skin color, social class, freedom. What would you say is the primary theme, and why?
3. Kirkus Reviews said of the book, “As in the darkest fairy tales, there will be fire and death.” In what other ways is God Help the Child like a fairy tale?
4. Over the course of an otherwise realistic novel, Bride’s body reverts from a curvy woman to an undeveloped girl. What’s going on there?
5. Several of the primary characters have different names from the ones they received at birth: Bride, Sweetness, Rain. What do these new names tell us about the characters?
6. At different points in the novel, Morrison switches from individual characters’ voices to third-person narration. How does this affect the reader’s understanding of what’s happening?
7. Why is Bride so uninterested in digging below the surface with Booker?
8. Discuss Bride’s friendship with Brooklyn. Over and over, Bride says how much she trusts Brooklyn, and what a good friend she is. What do these assertions tell us about Bride’s character? Does it matter that Brooklyn is white, with dreadlocks?
9. For as much as Sweetness hated Bride’s skin color, Bride turned it into an asset—as Jeri says on page 36, “Black sells. It’s the hottest commodity in the civilized world.” What changed from the time Bride was born until now? Have things really changed, or changed only on the surface?
10. Bride testified against Sofia to please her mother. On page 42 Sweetness recalls, “After Lula Ann’s performance in that court and on the stand I was so proud of her, we walked the streets hand in hand.” Why did Sweetness care so much about this trial?
11. On page 56, after Bride tells Booker about what she witnessed her landlord doing when she was a child, he says, “Correct what you can; learn from what you can’t. . . No matter how hard we try to ignore it, the mind always knows truth and wants clarity.” What does he mean by that?
12. The reader’s understanding of Booker is shaped by Bride’s recollection of his saying, “You not the woman I want,” her limited insights about him, and Brooklyn’s descriptions of him as a shady character. But in Part III we learn that he’s quite different from what we’ve imagined. What point is Morrison making here?
13. Bride holds on to Booker’s shaving brush, and Sofia keeps Bride’s earring. Why are these totems important?
14. When Bride is taken in by the white hippies, she is cut off from the world for weeks. How does this change her?
15. Why does Rain form such a special bond with Bride?
16. How did Adam’s death change Booker? Why did it affect him more than the rest of his family?
17. Discuss Bride’s sojourn with Queen. How does their relationship develop so quickly?
18. Although Queen has had many children, she has no close contact with any of them. What does this tell us about her? Why is she still a sympathetic character?
19. After Bride reads Booker’s writing about her, how does it change her impression of him?
20. What does it symbolize when Booker throws his trumpet into the stream with Queen’s ashes?
21. On page 180, Morrison describes Bride and Booker’s thoughts about the future: “A child. New life. Immune to evil or illness, protected from kidnap, beatings, rape, racism, insult, hurt, self-loathing, abandonment. Error-free. All goodness. Minus wrath. So they believe.” What do those last three words mean?
22. The novel begins and ends with Sweetness. Why?
23. Nearly every main character has had a brush with child sexual abuse. What is the cumulative effect?
24. In an interview with Stephen Colbert, Morrison said: “There is no such thing as race. . . . Racism is a construct, a social construct. And it has benefits. Money can be made off of it. People who don’t like themselves can feel better because of it. It can describe certain kinds of behavior that are wrong or misleading. So [racism] has a social function. But race can only be defined as a human being.” In the novel, Booker says similar things. Sweetness raised Bride the way she did because of Bride’s dark skin. How does this all tie together?