Tea by the Sea

Red Hen. Jun. 2020. 256p. ISBN 9781597098458. pap. $16.95. F
In this second novel from Jamaican American author Hemans (River Woman), set in both Jamaica and Brooklyn, 24-year-old Jamaican high school tutor Lenworth gets a student named Plum Valentine pregnant; he agrees to marry her but then absconds with the baby girl hours after her birth. (This information is no spoiler, as it’s revealed in Chapter 1.) Lenworth starts a new life with his daughter on another part of the island, using an assumed name. Though Plum was raised in America, her Jamaican parents parked her in a Jamaican boarding school against her will; after Lenworth disappears with the baby, she returns grief-stricken to Brooklyn and spends years trying to track down her daughter. The narrative is replete with wonderfully evocative descriptions of Jamaica’s lush floral beauty, hot climate, and rugged terrain, as well as more sober assessments of its local poverty, but the story is melodramatic when it could have been a more critical take on the Caribbean American immigrant experience. Plot and tone don’t quite jibe: Lenworth is presented as a sympathetic character with Plum’s best interests in mind, but readers will have difficulty reconciling that portrayal with his despicable behavior.
VERDICT A light read, despite the book’s serious-sounding themes.

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