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Formats
Audio Details
  • 06/2021
  • 9781667027159 B0977Q47Z4
  • 239 pages
  • $14.95
Hardcover Details
  • 01/2021
  • 978-0-578-731308
  • 240 pages
  • $13.95
Ebook Details
  • 01/2021
  • 978-0-578-73016-5 B08RWF6F91
  • 239 pages
  • $2.99
Paperback Details
  • 01/2021
  • 978-0-578-73017-2 0578730170
  • 239 pages
  • $6.99
M.S.P. Williams
Author
Listen Mama

Children/Young Adult; Memoir; (Market)

Through a series of letters at times heart-breaking, poetic, and unexpectedly humorous, come explore this true teen and young adult journey of a lost soul searching for the love of his mentally ill mother. While facing seemingly insurmountable odds, Manny ultimately becomes her caretaker and guardian while also parenting his four younger siblings in 1990’s Houston, Texas.

Witness his transformation in this coming-of-age story of a forgotten and disfigured black child, born into spirit-crushing poverty, and thrust into adult life all too soon. Manny’s teen years are spent battling the silent and treacherous enemy of mental illness in his mother's erratic and terrifying behavior. Years of bullying and abuse finally take their toll, and Manny soon finds himself at war with his own demons of depression, anxiety, and suicide attempts as he struggles to find his place in the world, and the true meaning of unconditional love.

Experience this inspirational story of loss, faith, love, and redemption that is guaranteed to bring forth both tears and laughter, heartache and happiness, as it captures your imagination, ignites your soul, and soon has you racing from page to page, breathlessly waiting to discover what happens next…

Plot/Idea: 7 out of 10
Originality: 7 out of 10
Prose: 7 out of 10
Character/Execution: 7 out of 10
Overall: 7.00 out of 10

Assessment:

Idea: Listen Mama is a memoir written as a series of journal entries addressed by the author to his mentally ill mother. As the eldest child, Williams, who suffered horrific scarring to his head and face from a burn accident in his infancy, navigates the chaotic waters of his mother’s mental illness, her frequent pregnancies and tumultuous relationships with a series of abusive men, and her financial irresponsibility which often leaves her children hungry or facing eviction, while also facing the challenges of bullying and mockery of the disfigurement left by his burns, compounded by the heartache and indignities visited upon children growing up poor and Black in America.

Prose/Style: The prose is polished, sometime to the point of being unconvincing in the early sections, where Williams does not always sound like a teenager addressing his mentally ill mother; the early journal entries too often serve as a vehicle for exposition. Williams finds his voice around the midway point of the book, emerging as a genuinely decent, warmly likable man doing his utmost to struggle through more tragedy and bad luck than any human being should be handed in a single lifetime, but always doing so with courage, humor and gallantry.

Originality: Some readers may be reminded of Lucy Grealy’s Autobiography of a Face, when reading of the pain, disfigurement, and reconstructive surgeries the author endures after suffering severe burn injuries in his infancy. But these are secondary problems in his life, compared to the quotidian misery and anxiety engendered by life with an unstable single parent who has shot one ex-boyfriend and keeps a stash of guns around just in case she wants to shoot another.

Character Development/Execution: Williams’s emotional enmeshment with his severely mentally ill mother Selita is sadly typical of children who are forced by horrific circumstances to take on the parental role during their childhoods. Like many adult children who’ve gone through such an upbringing, the author is self-aware and self-critical, sometimes to excess, yet frequently self-sabotages due to a misplaced sense that he is the only one who can rescue his family, and from having involuntarily internalized the belief that he never comes first. Nonetheless, Williams grows in strength and stature as the book progresses, thanks to his intelligence, his humor, and his personal integrity.

Blurb: Williams emerges as a genuinely decent, warmly likable man doing his utmost to struggle past more slings and arrows of outrageous fortune than any human being should have to take on in one lifetime, and always doing so with courage, humor and gallantry.

Date Submitted: December 31, 2020

Reviews
This epistolary coming-of-age memoir follows a resilient protagonist trying to make something of himself without leaving his loved ones behind. In letters addressed to his mother, Selita, Williams recounts facing overwhelming challenges while caring for his brothers, sisters, and mentally ill mother. Over the course of the two decades ending in 2014, he grows from a precocious, TV-obsessed youngster to a determined university student to an exhausted graduate, struggling to provide for his family. The format is diarylike, with letters dated over the whole 19-year period. Williams, called Manny by his family, discusses his early childhood, the hospital accident that left him with severe scarring on his face and head, the sacrifices he makes to help his mother and protect his siblings, his struggles to find a career, his love life, historical and pop culture events. Running through it all is an entertaining and heart-wrenching look at his complex, fraught mother-son relationship with Selita.

The epistolary format provides an incredibly strong sense of character, fully immersing readers in Manny’s story—his upbeat personality, his will to start a better life, and the frustration, sadness, and love in his relationship with Selita. While this lets thoughtful introspection flourish, it can keep readers somewhat distant from the events that form the emotional core of Manny’s experience. Events are mentioned, but not often narrated as scenes and sometimes not discussed for a long time after they occur, so, while Manny is a fully fleshed-out character, the supporting cast, including Selita, can feel flat by comparison.

Another of the memoir’s strengths is its ability to capture the 20-odd years between 1995 and 2014. The entries that discuss albums, basketball players, movies, and historical events (including the election of President Obama—with whom, Manny writes humorously, he shares an obsession with his BlackBerry phone) bring brightness to an occasionally disheartening tale and help immerse the reader in the time period. Not only does this book examine racism, poverty, love, loyalty, and mental illness, but it is a time capsule for the recent past. Readers will be drawn in by this equally devastating and uplifting memoir of a challenging mother-son relationship.

Takeaway: Readers will be drawn in by this equally devastating and uplifting memoir of a challenging mother-son relationship.

Great for fans of: Tobias Wolff's This Boy's Life, Ariel Leve's An Abbreviated Life, Kiese Laymon’s Heavy.

Production grades
Cover: A
Design and typography: A-
Illustrations: N/A
Editing: A-
Marketing copy: A-

AudioFile Magazine

Young Adult Ages 14+ • 8 hrs. • Unabridged • © 2021

JD Jackson narrates this memoir in a low, well-modulated voice. At first, this choice seems helpful as a vehicle to deliver the audiobook's intense, heartbreaking story, but soon the sameness creates a feeling of relentless, unmitigated events. Born into poverty with physical disfigurements, Manny finds himself up against impossible odds that seem to mount. His stepfather, Ray, has left him and his two sisters, and listeners are fairly certain he won't be coming back. Writing unsent letters to his mother, who is in a psychiatric hospital, Manny fervently hopes that one day she will be well enough to read his epistles. His descriptive writing has humor and heart, and his determination to help his family out of difficult situations is both laudable and impossible. S.W. 2022 Audies Finalist © AudioFile 2022, Portland, Maine [Published: FEBRUARY 2022]

Digital Download • M.S.P. Williams • 2021

DD ISBN $19.95

BlueInk Review

Listen Mama: A Memoir

M.S.P Williams

Souls Take Flight, 240 pages, (eBook) $2.99

9780578730165 (Reviewed: January, 2021)

Listen Mama is comprised of author M.S.P Williams’ journal entries beginning at age 14 through almost 20 years of his life. He states that he has written it not only for himself, but also for his mentally ill mother so that she might have “a clearer picture of the world not seen through the false light of [her] mental illness.” At six months, Williams was “somehow” poisoned at day care. Due to a hospital medical error while treating him, over 75% of his scalp and face were burned, resulting in severe disfigurement. Scarred and overweight, Williams was ridiculed throughout his life. He quips that he “hit the loser lottery.” The author began working as a young teen to support his siblings and troubled mother (she shot and paralyzed an abusive husband, hosted transient boyfriends, and behaved erratically). His rage, he writes in one entry, “knows no limits.” Despite all, he graduated from the University of Houston and held myriad jobs, from auto insurance assessor to police academy recruit. At times, he lived in his car, donating blood for income. Twice in his life, he attempted suicide. Ultimately, he made a break from his family, moving to California with his girlfriend, where he seemed to find peace. Listen Mama is written in a conversational and brutally honest tone. Williams is unapologetic and candid in disclosing his feelings, allowing readers to sympathize with him. His frequent attempts at humor, however, feel forced. Of his first girlfriend, he banters, “she was naturally blown away by my easy, pretty boy ways haha.” His liberal use of “haha” and “lol” disrupt the text’s flow. Readers may also find frequent, unnecessary details of family, friends, and coworkers distracting. Regardless of such flaws, readers will applaud the author’s heroic efforts to help his kin, all while feeling acute despair over his appearance and lack of confidence. His stark emotional journey is likely to strike a familiar chord with those struggling to live their own truth. Also available as an ebook.

Clarion Foreword Reviews

Listen Mama: A Memoir

M.S.P Williams

Souls Take Flight, 240 pages, (eBook) $2.99

9780578730165 

Reviewed by Edith Wairimu January 20, 2021

Listen Mama is a devastating coming-of-age memoir about the impact of a mother’s mental illness on her son. M.S.P. Williams’s moving memoir Listen Mama is about the heartbreak of living with, and taking care of, a parent suffering from mental illness. Williams was born in 1979 to a teenage mother, Selita. He grew up in Houston, Texas. His father was absent throughout his life. When he was six months old, Williams’s face and head were burned; this necessitated multiple reconstructive surgeries. Numerous additional challenges arose throughout his childhood and teenage years, including poverty, bullying, emotional neglect, custody battles, and depression. Because of his mother’s mental illness, he had to step in as a parent to his younger siblings. His accounts of such events are colored by courage and the hope that his mother would one day recover. Made up of letters addressed to Williams’s mother, written from 1995 to 2014, the book focuses on the emotions and reactions that followed the events of Williams’s youth. Williams variously expresses anger, frustration, anxiety, and hope. A letter posted after his graduation from college expresses his disappointment with his mother, who, despite having some income of her own, relied on Williams to pay her bills and meet his siblings’ needs, resulting in financial strains for him. Other letters record the deaths of friends and the lasting impacts of childhood bullying, recalling times when Williams was not confident enough to stand up to his bullies. Anguish and accounts of suicide attempts also arise. Less engaging are portions of the book that cover Williams’s educational and work experiences. But the letters also include animated coverage of music, movies, and sports, as when Williams writes about What’s Eating Gilbert Grape? just after an angry letter that documents a heated exchange between him and his mother. These more cheerful subjects temper the otherwise heavy material. Williams’s letters also follow every stage of his mother’s declining health, showing the effects of her illness. The people around Williams are described in detail, both in terms of their personality traits and their actions. Williams’s mother is preserved most as a distant, erratic personality, while his grandmother, at her opposite, is supportive and wise, encouraging her grandson and reminding him that his mother is unwell in difficult moments, as when she hurled angry accusations at him. Those outside of Williams’s family are sometimes present, but accounts of them are brief and direct, as when work colleagues are addressed with single terms: they are nice, reasonable, impressive, or smart. Full pictures are also missing when it comes to the medical challenges surrounding Williams’s mother’s mental health struggles; they are foregone in favor of focusing on the challenges of Williams’s relationship with his mother. Listen Mama is a devastating coming-of-age memoir about the impact of a mother’s mental illness on her son.  

IndieReader

IndieReader, starred review:
Listen Mama: A Memoir

M.S.P Williams

Souls Take Flight, 240 pages, (eBook) $2.99

9780578730165 (Reviewed: March 1, 2021)

Synopsis:
Though faced with the ever increasing obstacles of caring for his mentally ill mother and four siblings,
Manny never gives up hope of holding his family together and reaching his mother’s love through a
series of letters in LISTEN MAMA .
Full Description:
LISTEN MAMA by M.S.P. Williams opens with two of Manny’s younger siblings being taken away by
Manny’s stepfather. With their grandmother crying and a cop car in the background, Manny does his
best to hold back his own tears as his reassures Dominique and Dante that he will visit them soon.
Though, he knows well enough that such a reunion is uncertain as his stepfather, Ray, seems to have no
intention of coming to retrieve Manny and his remaining two sisters. After all, they are not “his kids”. All
of this is written to his mother who is committed in a psychiatric hospital after her increasingly erratic
behavior became violent. Soon, however, she leaves the hospital after refusing to cooperate with doctors
during her involuntary observation period, and Manny must try to find his mother underneath her
troubling behavior.
Narrated through a series of letters, recounting the days of his mother’s illness that Manny hopes she
will one day be well enough to read, LISTEN MAMA makes for a particularly intimate memoir. Manny’s
perceptions paint the image of an earnest young man, mature and bright, and still wanting to view the
world through an optimistic lens. His caring nature contrasted with his matter-of-fact recounting of his
mother’s psychotic episodes and his casual familiarity with the deeply flawed behavior of the adults
around him, sets the tone for a story of a teenager who is forced to grow up too quickly. Manny’s
narration offers a good balance between his personal worries and biases and, at times, depressingly
objective view of his situation. He is as genuine in his belief that his mother will one day recover as he is
in his cutting observations of her difficult personality even removed from her illness. These details allow
for a three dimensionality in the characters and even Ray, who could easily have been relegated to the
stock evil step-parent, is understood to be removing his children from their mother’s instances of
physical violence.
LISTEN MAMA covers nearly two decades of Manny’s life and sees his siblings from grow innocent
children through the pains and disappointments leading to adulthood. This broad time span often leads
to moments where the reader shares in Manny’s surprise that his siblings had grown up without him
noticing. However, between the poignant beats, casual details of Manny’s life like basketball scores,
movies, and busy work fill the space. Though these moments do contribute to the framing of a son
recording his life for his mother’s sake, there are instances where the pacing drags. Also, as a
consequence of the very close first person perspective, characters outside of Manny such as his siblings
and his grandmother can feel under characterized at times. Fortunately, though, the majority of the slice
of life letters are charming, funny, or sobering enough to hold their own between larger life events, and
when Manny’s siblings do take the scene, their interactions are some of the highlights of the piece.
LISTEN MAMA authentically details the sliding scale of hopes, frustrations, and disappoints, as Manny
attempts to hold his loved ones and himself together, in the decades spanning belief that his family will
one day be well and whole again.
~Yi Zou for IndieReader

Midwest Book Review

Midwest Book Review : Listen Mama: A Memoir M.S.P Williams Souls Take Flight, 240 pages, (Paperback) $2.99 978-0-578-73017-2 Reviewed by Diane Donovan April 7, 2021)

Listen Mama is powerful reading for the teen and young adult audience it's directed towards—but then, many other genre reads also embrace themes of abuse, depression, and struggles with a parent's mental illness. What sets this story apart from others is its attention to bringing these situations alive through diary entries, letters to a mother (that come from a fourteen-year-old recovering from his abusive parent's physical attacks), and the devastating and healing effects these had on a loving family and his long-term relationshipsThe first thing to note about Listen Mama is its candid assessment of how these choices were not cut-and-dried (as they too often appear in other stories of family mental illness). Williams acknowledges, from the beginning, the clash between belief systems, values, and realities which require hard decisions that often go against all perceptions and ideals: "...although you screamed to the heavens that everyone was against you, that’s just not the case Mama. The vote to have you com­mitted was a lot closer than you would have ever imagined...But the concerns of the rest of the family had me pretty worried. They said they did not know what might hap­pen to you, that this was wrong, and nobody’s freedom should be taken away from them. And I’ll be honest, I was really scared due to the portrayal of mental institutions in films and television. For all I knew they would have you locked up on the same wing as some psychopath or deranged killer . . . I was mainly terrified at the potential for abuse and mistreatment at the hands of the clinic’s staff. For one, I thought it was more like a jail scenario, with all degrees of the mentally ill lumped together." As the narrator reviews the ideas and realities of not just mental health and illness but institutionalization, the healing process of all involved, and young Manny's search for answers about his own place in life and his role in his mother's illness, readers receive a compelling saga. It moves into adult choices when he finds himself in a caretaker role while struggling with his own legacy of mental illness.Many other issues are woven into the story, from racism and poverty to struggles to identify and separate mental illness concerns from daily life obstacles.One reason why Manny's story is so accessible to teen readers, especially, is its candid, heartfelt acknowledgments of searching for a mother's love and accepting both the good and bad moments that stem from that search and the alienating facts of mental illness's effects on love, parents, and children alike: "Whenever I am away and don’t visit her for a while, I find myself missing Mama for all the wrong reasons. How she made me feel about myself is high on the list. How she gave me tremendous love as a child when no one else could/would—not even you. How she made this sad little boy think a withered old lady would slay a dragon if it meant keeping him from harm. On those days I ran home crying, I was not aware of anything off­hand that I had done wrong to deserve a treatment of this caliber from society. And Mama Dear would often cry silently too. She would then try to get me to understand that I was normal, like any other child. The only difference I had was actually on the inside. That’s what made me special. That’s what made me different—not the burns on my head. But I was usually not appeased, and I would beg her to tell me when it would get better. When would people see my inside instead of my outside—just like she could? And her reply was always the same, “Sooner than you think, honey. Sooner than you think.”Manny speaks of the "soft bigotry of low expectations" and social interactions that also intersect with family strife. He also adds humor and close inspections of family circumstances which ultimately gave him the strength to rise out of poverty, prejudice, and abuse to live a good life.All these make for compelling reading that injects a positive note into a situation seemingly fraught with inevitable disaster: "Did I have a tough life? Yes. Did I grow up in pov­erty and face things during the day and night that I would never wish upon my worst enemy? Yeah. Do I wish he had shown just the slight­est interest, or at least talked/met me once? You bet. And while I am not a saint or martyr, I am also not vindictive. I am not spiteful and I am not a bad person."Young adult (and many an adult) readers will find Listen Mama a thoroughly absorbing story about not just a mother's love and a family's mental illness, but the dysfunction of society as a whole.

ReaderViews, Reviewer's Choice Silver Award

Listen Mama: A Memoir

M.S.P Williams

Souls Take Flight, 240 pages, (eBook) $2.99

9780578730165 (Reviewed: January, 2021)

Reviewed by Tammy Ruggles for Reader Views (1/2021)

“Listen Mama” by M.S.P. Williams, is a moving memoir about not giving up on love. Comprised of touching letters, this book chronicles the journey of a son’s yearning for his mentally ill mother to love him, and encounters barriers that seem impenetrable. These personal letters offer slice-of-life, intimate insight into the lives of real people, and will leave you enlightened and inspired. This often-heartbreaking memoir is emotional, honest, and all-too true for so many people searching for connection to a mother, father, family, or just belonging. The letters are poignant, and as you read, you will immediately be swept into the mindset of this man, and travel his journey with him, and, as him. The writing is touching and heartfelt, profound in its simplicity, and will connect with reading audiences everywhere. The themes of separation, poverty, loneliness, broken families, and a host of other life experiences, make this a timely and timeless story--and since the narrative is constructed of letters--makes them even more real to the reader. Manny is a son trying to keep ties with his mother, who is in a psychiatric hospital. That would be a life hurdle in itself, but Manny has hope beyond hope, and shows how faith, willpower, and perseverance can lead to a fulfillment of wishes and dreams. He wishes the best for his mother, and longs for things to be the way they were before. He wants her to be happy and whole, but he's lost so much. Redemption seems impossible, but Manny, despite having a disfigurement and being born into disadvantages, has to grow up too soon. Seeking compassion and understanding, he had to deal with his mother's frightening behavior, brought on by her mental illness. Eventually, he cares for her, and his four younger siblings--a challenging labor of love. The way he tries to hold everything together is inspiring. But even though the book has heartbreak, it has happiness and humor. YA readers will love this. You'll get to know a mother through her son's eyes and heart and feel the passage of time through the letters as he references historical and pop culture milestones. The author shows a good balance of ups and downs over the twenty-years, and “Listen Mama” is a gem of a book that will live in the heart and mind for years to come.

Formats
Audio Details
  • 06/2021
  • 9781667027159 B0977Q47Z4
  • 239 pages
  • $14.95
Hardcover Details
  • 01/2021
  • 978-0-578-731308
  • 240 pages
  • $13.95
Ebook Details
  • 01/2021
  • 978-0-578-73016-5 B08RWF6F91
  • 239 pages
  • $2.99
Paperback Details
  • 01/2021
  • 978-0-578-73017-2 0578730170
  • 239 pages
  • $6.99

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