Between the Covers
For what is a relatively short novel, Mama’s Song manages to cram an essentially simple story with enough raw emotion to leave you feeling like you’ve just walked, hand-in-hand, with a remarkable and very real young woman.
Georgina is young, pregnant, and running away from home. We meet her on the bus, the “brown, lifeless” landscape rolling past as she makes her way to her grandmother’s house. Georgina is seeking refuge from her mother, from the pressures she faces as a pregnant adolescent and the decisions waiting to be made. Problem is Georgina’s parents – her mother, her absent father, and her caring stepfather – have neglected to tell her that her grandmother has recently passed away.
The lead-in is anything but gradual; the story anything but convoluted. And yet, for all its apparent simplicity, this is a complex story told without the bells and whistles and moralising that tend to accompany stories about teenage pregnancy.
Ben Beaton is a high school teacher. It shows. He demonstrates both an understanding of, and a respect for, young people, their experiences and their perspectives. What surprised me most, however, was his ability to so accurately portray the birthing process. Ben is, after all, a man, and while I respect a writer’s ability to tap into the physical and emotional reality of a character’s experiences, I am wary of the man who is confident in his ability to render a realistic portrayal of something he has never, and will never, experience. Don’t get me wrong – I’m not saying that you have to have murdered someone in order to convincingly portray a murderous character. But let’s face it; most of us will never experience the real thing and so our ability to judge the accuracy of such a portrayal is somewhat limited. Writing a birth scene – like writing a sex scene – is a different kettle of fish. Readers will judge your ability as a writer in terms of how realistic your portrayal of such events is, and if you’re a man writing about something that is innately a female experience then I think the odds are stacked against you. To his credit, and my surprise, Ben Beaton writes Georgina’s birthing scene with the sort of insight I’d expect from someone who has actually given birth.
But this story is about more than teenage pregnancy and a convincing birth scene. It is a journey of self-discovery, a story about friendship and family and finding out for yourself what’s right for you. This is a very moving, beautifully written book, recommended for mature young adults and parents of teenagers.
Books reviewed are available at the Book Warehouse in Keen Street, Lismore, and at Lismore Shopping Square.