Editorial note: I received a copy of What’s Mine and Yours in exchange for a review. All opinions are my own.
What’s Mine and Yours by Naima Coster is an emotional read about motherhood, race and class.
Today Show’s Jenna Bush Hager tends to pick more literary fiction style stories for her book club, especially compared to some of the other celebrity ones out there. Whenever I read one of Jenna’s picks, I expect it to be more serious and sometimes intense. And they’re always thought-provoking.
What’s Mine and Yours by Naima Coster is Jenna’s March pick and it fits the bill: literary fiction and definitely more heavy. I had high expectations for this one and hoped it would be similar to Brit Bennett’s The Vanishing Half.
Well, I didn’t enjoy it as much as The Vanishing Half. While What’s Mine and Yours is well-written and I was fairly engaged, I did have some issues with it.
What’s the Story About
If you read the synopsis, it makes it seem like the story is mainly about a school integration, which does happen but not till halfway into the story. And even then, it’s not really the main storyline. Yes, it does provide the catalyst for these characters to connect but we actually spend more more time with them as adults.
The story takes place in a community in the Piedmont of North Carolina. We follow two families over the span of 20 years. At the center of the story is Gee and Noelle. Gee is a black student who is part of the integration to the mainly white school. His mother, Jade, takes more of a tough love approach, which isn’t always the right way to handle the sensitive Gee. Both of them experienced a devastating loss when Gee was just a boy that had lasting impacts to how they treat each other and those around them.
Noelle is half-Latina but her mother Lacey May only sees her as white. Both Lacey May and Noelle’s father Robbie are narcissistic messes. So like Gee, Noelle doesn’t come from the most stable household. Noelle is blunt and tries to appear aloof but behind that veneer, she’s hurting quite a bit and just wants to be loved.
We also follow Noelle’s sisters, Margarita and Diane, who both have their own ways of dealing with their chaotic upbringing.
While the integration sections are few and far between, I was quite struck at the scene in which the school brings together all the parents to discuss the changes. Many of the white parents in the story are cruel and believe this will somehow derail their own kids’ success. And these same people try to proclaim that they’re not racist—like Lacey May—when clearly they are.
That said, Lacey May’s outrage at the integration and Noelle’s relationship with Gee was a bit out of a left field. Clearly, Lacey May is racist and maybe the author wasn’t trying to delve deeper into that. Her husband Robbie is an addict and while Lacey May loves him, she can’t rely on him for anything. So she settles with another man, Hank. And she goes on and on about how she wants what’s best for her daughters but it doesn’t really reflect that in her actions as she can be quite cruel. Lacey May was perplexing and a bit underdeveloped, I think we needed to know more of her backstory to understand her actions.
Everyone tries to tell Gee just how he should behave as a black man, without allowing him to figure out who he truly is. He’s clearly has unprocessed trauma from a significant loss and isn’t able to maintain healthy relationships. Gee clinches his jaw more often than not and finds release by searching online for free porn. It seems that Gee prefers to live in a limbo of where he can forget his past and disappear into being someone else for a bit. But as an adult, he doesn’t take the time to think about how his actions can hurt others.
Neither Lacey May or Jade will get mother of the year awards. For these two characters, motherhood is complicated—they love their kids (at least in theory) but yet, they don’t always show it. They also didn’t let their kids just be who they are. In a sense, they don’t really know their kids that well at all.
Compared to other stories I’ve read about motherhood, I do think the thread is a little thin in this book—again, the character motivation was a bit lacking for me. As I write this, I think about some of the decisions the mothers made and I’m still perplexed. Maybe that’s the point? But I didn’t come away feeling I saw motherhood in a different lens. So that part was a bit empty for me.
I would say this book is fine and give it 3 1/2 stars. There are some emotional scenes— the beginning and end are both very strong. But I do believe the synopsis was misleading and would have liked more about the integration part. However, there is plenty to discuss with book clubs. Check out my questions here.