For What It's Worth

For What It's Worth

Thursday, May 27, 2021

Review: Caul baby by Morgan Jerkins


New York Times bestselling author Morgan Jerkins makes her fiction debut with this electrifying novel, for fans of Ta-Nehisi Coates and Jacqueline Woodson, that brings to life one powerful and enigmatic family in a tale rife with secrets, betrayal, intrigue, and magic.


Laila desperately wants to become a mother, but each of her previous pregnancies has ended in heartbreak. This time has to be different, so she turns to the Melancons, an old and powerful Harlem family known for their caul, a precious layer of skin that is the secret source of their healing power.

When a deal for Laila to acquire a piece of caul falls through, she is heartbroken, but when the child is stillborn, she is overcome with grief and rage. What she doesn’t know is that a baby will soon be delivered in her family—by her niece, Amara, an ambitious college student—and delivered to the Melancons to raise as one of their own. Hallow is special: she’s born with a caul, and their matriarch, Maman, predicts the girl will restore the family’s prosperity.

Growing up, Hallow feels that something in her life is not right. Did Josephine, the woman she calls mother, really bring her into the world? Why does her cousin Helena get to go to school and roam the streets of New York freely while she’s confined to the family’s decrepit brownstone?

As the Melancons’ thirst to maintain their status grows, Amara, now a successful lawyer running for district attorney, looks for a way to avenge her longstanding grudge against the family. When mother and daughter cross paths, Hallow will be forced to decide where she truly belongs.  

Engrossing, unique, and page-turning, Caul Baby illuminates the search for familial connection, the enduring power of tradition, and the dark corners of the human heart. ~ Goodreads

Source: ALC (advanced listening copy) from Harper Collins via Libro.fm in exchange for an honest review


WHEW! This book. 

*Note: A lot of the plot is right in the summary and I'll try to stick to that and not reveal anything new but this review might be unintentionally spoilery so here's a head's up!

*Content Warning (both for the book & this review): -> miscarriage, cutting of skin (the caul) - on both children and adults both consensual and not, adoption, gaslighting, gentrification, murder of a child - off page but discussed as a court case, Black motherhood/bodies

I don't listen to many books that are *Generic Title: A Novel* 

I am firmly in the camp of reading as an escape to happier places. Yes, some angst is fine (& to be expected) but I fully admit that I'm all about the fluffy, light read. This was not that book.

I picked this one up because 1) I seem to be better at reading genres I wouldn't normally like when it comes to audiobooks 2) the narrator is one of my absolute favorites - Joniece Abbott-Pratt (Grown, Raybearer) but oh man was it bleak at times. 

Caul Baby is a multigenerational saga that tells the tale of two Harlem families and the women connected by tragedy, revenge and prophecy. 

The story is split into two parts. The first half being Laila. Having miscarried many times, she is now pregnant and doing well but the fear of losing this child leads her to the Melancon family. They are a family of women rumored to have the caul - a protective layer of skin some babies are born with. When a piece is cut off and given to someone it provides healing and protection. Laila is ready to buy a piece to protect her unborn child but thanks to a prophecy, the Melancon's make a decision about selling the caul to Leila - setting a chain of events into motion that reverberate for generations to come.

Then there is Laila's niece, Amara, also pregnant, but chooses to give her child up for adoption, is also (unknowingly) linked to the Melancon family for life.

This first part was sooooo damn bleak. I have never wanted children but Laila's repeated losses and pain were palpable. Amara's situation ends differently but is just as harrowing for both her and the child she gave up for adoption - Hallow, who has the caul, something the Melancon family needs to restore their home, power and finances. It honestly hurt to listen to for an extended period of time, but for some reason I wanted to know how the various threads intersected and were resolved - if justice was served - if you will.

Part two of the saga involves those consequences, years later. The Melancon family has their new source of caul and Jerkins does an excellent job highlighting gentrification, white people using Black (female) bodies and the Melancon family catering to that for money instead of helping their own community and how their decisions come to haunt them.

The second half was far less bleak as the new generation of women start to look outside what they've always been told and gain agency, power and a new future. Some from the older generation garner strength from that as well and the Melancon family hits a crossroads.

Yes, this was a tough read but, ultimately, I enjoyed it. Especially the end. It was very fitting for all involved.

There were times that I think the story veered too far away from characters before coming back to them 100's of pages later and a few things didn't feel consistent to the characters -> Hallow was never allowed to speak to anyone or go out alone growing up but then she's all of a sudden holding meeting with other caul bearers. And I was curious if everyone's situation was a s bleak as Hallow's or were some grateful *the gift*? or  or story threads that were dropped -> The girl who put her baby in the trash can. It was such a big topic of debate in the book for both Amara and Hallow but that's all it ended up being. A debate. I guess I thought maybe Amara might take the case up again or something. 

This is definitely not a book for everyone. It was bleak but ultimately hopeful and empowering so I'm still glad I read it. It also brings up a lot of issues worthy of more discussion. Even though it confirms why I can't read books like this very often. I was depressed for days after lol

Fun fact! A caul is indeed a real thing, although not imbued with any magical healing properties as in this fictionalized version. - "a caul is  is a piece of membrane that can cover a newborn's head and face. Birth with a caul is rare, occurring in fewer than 1 in 80,000 births. The caul is harmless and is immediately removed by the mother/parent, physician or midwife upon birth of the child."


20 comments:

  1. I couldn't see me reading this, but I love that you sound so excited about it

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    1. Honestly, it was A LOT and I was so down in the dumps reading it lol But I felt good about the women and their ending.

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  2. Bleak, yet hopeful, oh dunno really. Interesting though

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    1. It was strange. A lot of real life issues with magical elements. Definitely not my jam but I'm glad I read it.

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  3. Well done for reading out of your comfort zone, Karen! I so rarely do, and you are right, it's usually through audiobooks.

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    1. It's never as great an experience for me - I have a comfort zone for a reason - but I think it's good to try lol

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  4. Whew, this one sounds intense. I don't mind those type of books sometimes, but this one doesn't really seem like one that I'd read. At least not anytime soon. I love that you tried something so out of your "comfort zone" if you will though!

    Lauren
    www.shootingstarsmag.net

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    1. It kind of took me by surprise with how heavy it was. The second half and pay off made it worth it but the struggle was real lol

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  5. Well! If nothing else a title that certainly caught my attention. However reading that GR synopsis and your review I'm really not sure this is one for me.

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    1. I would never have read it if it wasn't for the fact that it was offered for free and I love the narrator. But I'm glad I did.

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  6. Gosh this one sounds so heavy, but it also sounds great? I don't know that it is something I'd readily pick up, but it has certainly piqued my interest.

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    1. It is but the second half is much more uplifting - or at least empowering. I think you would like it though.

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  7. That's very interesting about the caul, I didn't know it was such a thing. This sounds like a very good book.

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  8. Oh wow, this seems too heavy for me but I'm glad you got something out of it! I'm with you: I read to escape reality!

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    1. Not my regular read for sure. I seem to be able to branch out more with audiobooks but still not thy type of book I could read on a regular basis.

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  9. I’m not sure. I mean, even the book description sounds so bleak so I totally get what you’re saying. Some of the content I feel might be triggering BUT it does kind of pique my interest. Also I had no idea what a caul was! Thanks for sharing; you always have such in depth and great reviews!!

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    1. It's ultimately empowering but it takes a lot to get there and it was hard to continue at times.

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  10. I skipped over after you said spoilery. I like going into books as blind as possible. I really want to read this! ๐Ÿ™Œ๐Ÿ™Œ๐Ÿ™Œ

    A college acquaintance of mine was born (in the mid '60s) with a caul. She said the nurse asked her mother if she wanted it preserved in a jar, and her mother thought it was weird and said no. Ha ha. The acquaintance said she wished her mother had kept it. ๐Ÿ˜ถ I wonder if they still ask, or if times are too modern now.๐Ÿ˜…

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    1. Please let me know what you think of it when you're done!!

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