Image of several old photos on top of a post card from 1965.

Book Review: What Start Bad A Mornin’

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If you saw the live discussion that I had with Carol Mitchell, author of What Start Bad A Mornin’ – her debut adult novel – you heard me say that if you intend on reading this book, do NOT start late at night or when you have something to do. You will definitely end up losing sleep to finish it.

Before you read

On August 29th, a few weeks before What Start Bad A Mornin’ officially releases, we talked about her writing process, character development, and her overall feelings about and goals for her debut novel. You can watch it here.

You can also watch here:

The Author

Carol Mitchell is like family here at SocaMom. She has been a longtime supporter and advocate for the community, and I always look forward to chatting with her. Whether it is an online discussion about one of her authors that she has published and is excited about, sharing her insight on the writing industry in an online forum, or presenting at the Anancy Festival and the SocaMom Summit, she is always a great resource for the SocaMom community.

Originally from the Caribbean, Carol now lives in the US. She has written 18 books for children, and her first novel for adults, What Start Bad A Mornin’, is scheduled for release on September 19th through Central Avenue Publishing. She earned her MFA at George Mason University and is a fellow at the Virginia Center for Creative Arts. Her short stories have been featured in several Caribbean journals, has had three children’s books published by HarperCollins UK, and has been a speaker at several well respected literary festivals.

The Summary

image of the cover of the book what start bad a mornin' by carol mitchell

Amaya Lin has few memories of the years before she turned eighteen. Now in her forties, she has compensated by carefully cultivating a satisfying life as a wife, mother, and business professional. Her husband’s law practice is on the brink of major success; her neurodiverse son has grown into an independent adult; and she has come to terms with her aunt’s dementia. This sense of order is disrupted, however, when she encounters a stranger who claims to have an impossible connection, launching Amaya on a tumultuous journey into the past.

Using three interwoven narratives spanning the United States, Trinidad, and Jamaica, Carol Mitchell’s debut gives voice to an immigrant woman forced to confront her repressed memories of violent trauma. Only then can she discover what she is capable of when it comes to self-preservation and the protection of her family.

“What start bad a mornin’, cyan end good a evenin’.” — Jamaican proverb.

The English translation of the Jamaican proverb is, “What went wrong in the morning cannot be remedied in the evening.” Have you ever had “one of those days”? I think in America it is called “getting up on the wrong side of the bed.” Sometimes, for the rest of the day, you just can’t get right – no matter what you do. Does that feel familiar to you? Well, imagine getting up on the wrong side of the rest of your life. No one wants to imagine the day that they wake up, start the day, and nothing seems to go right after that for days, months, or years on end. You’d want to find out why things were going so badly – you’d have to. But if somethings starts off wrong, can you do anything to change it?

One of the themes in What Start Bad A Mornin’ is memory. There are so many things we tie to memories – our behaviors, our relationships, old and new, who we believe we are, and how we move around in the world. We try to create futures for ourselves based on our past, but imagine you didn’t know what your past was. What would you use to anchor yourself so that you could move into the future?

See. THESE questions are why I said you need to set aside some time to read this book start to finish – cover to cover – in one sitting.

image of old photographs and a postcard from the 1960's.

One of the things that I have been able to do now that my parents aren’t working so much is talk to them about their childhoods. It explains a lot about who they are, why they raised me the way that they did, and why I do a lot of the things I do. I have the stories that I was able to get from them at the dinner table and on the car rides from school and back. When I was younger, they didn’t have the time or patience to recount the family history. Now that they are older, they understand that time is precious, and if they don’t share the stories, who will? My dad sends me photos on WhatsApp that he finds or that his brothers send him. I found his yearbook from Howard University online, and I enjoy scrolling through the pages to see what it was like when he arrived in Washington, DC as a student. A lot of what he has told me mirrors what I read in What Start Bad A Mornin’ – down to him becoming a lawyer.

The Review

I thoroughly enjoyed What Start Bad A Mornin’. I read a lot of books by people that I know, and sometimes it is hard to get into the story and ignore the fact that I am familiar with the author. Well, in this case, I completely forgot. The story is so well-written and engaging, that I didn’t want to pause and take a breath. The characters are thoughtfully introduced, so I don’t have to go back and be like, “who was that now?” I’m not OLD old, but I’m old enough that I really don’t want to read anything twice if I don’t have to.

While I do have a connection to the Caribbean, I felt like I connected with the characters beyond their birthplaces. They were friends, advocates, mothers, aunties, professionals, over 40, and made their home in the DMV (DC/Maryland/Virginia area). Because the story transcends national origin, I can recommend this book to my Caribbean friends and my American friends alike.

So, when you have a whole day to dedicate to reading this straight through, or a night when you don’t mind staying up, get a snack, a drink, and settle into What Start Bad A Mornin’. During the live discussion, Carol invited us to share what we thought about the book, take pictures of ourselves with the book, look for the book in local bookstores (even if we already have it) – and take a photo of it when we see it. When you do, make sure you tag us on Instagram at @writewithcarol and @socamom.