Maame by Jessica George: Emotionally charged debut novel

Maame, Jessica George’s compelling debut has garnered much attention from book clubs. But is it really as funny as marketed? Read my full review.

Maame Review, a novel by Jessica George

Publication: Macmillan, January 2023

Genre: Drama, Romance

Maame Book Synopsis

Maame (ma-meh) has many meanings in Twi, but in my case, it means woman.

Maddie Wright is a young Ghanaian woman living in the UK who has always felt defined by the expectations and roles assigned to her by her family. To her parents, she is Maame, the responsible caretaker. Maddie loves but is burdened by looking after her father, maintaining peace and keeping family secrets. She longs to break free from these constraints and live life on her own terms.

So when an opportunity finally arises to move out of the family home, she is determined to forge her own identity. She embraces a new persona, one that includes bold fashion choices and relationships her mother would not approve of. But before too long, tragedy strikes, forcing Maddie to confront the consequences of her newfound independence and navigate loss and heartbreak.

Maame is a poignant coming-of-age story that explores themes of identity, family, and self-discovery, showing that sometimes it takes losing everything to truly find oneself.

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My Review

Let’s cut to the chase… Despite various publisher statements about Maame being ‘funny’ and ‘hilarious’, this is not a romantic comedy novel. Sure, there are observations and situations peppered throughout this tale that are fleetingly funny in an awkward/dark way, but at no point did I find myself actually chuckling while reading. I usually revel in dark and dry humour, but in this case, it was too often wrapped up in self-doubt, self-sabotage and deep grief for me to garner much levity from it.

Humour, though, is very subjective, and my 4+ decade perspective on life may just not have jibed well with this twenty-something author’s or that of her similarly aged leading lady Maddie Wright. What for me seemed like excessive levels of self-doubt, e.g. repeatedly asking Google what she should do in situations, presented a barrier to my feeling any real sense of kinship with the character.

That all said, I did very much “feel for” Maddie Wright as she navigated the myriad challenges she faces.

A person’s troubles are not measured by the size of those troubles, but by how much they weigh on the individual carrying them.

Jessica George’s characterisation of her lead via her messy and, at times, excruciatingly raw inner narrative is certainly bravely executed and makes for compelling reading. This novel’s depth of emotion, combined with a story arc that ultimately doles out a little karma where warranted, are the elements within Maame that held greatest appeal for me. It comes as no surprise that there are already plans for a TV adaptation.

There is much value to be found within Jessica George’s fresh and edgy novel Maame. I do agree with the general consensus that it is a strong publishing debut… Just do not go into it expecting a rom-com.

What other reviewers thought of Maame

  • The Washington Post highlighted this story’s Bridget Jones’ vibe but richer substance.
  • It was described as ‘a quarter-life crisis handled with grace and guts’ by the NYTimes.
  • Kirkus Reviews said Maddie’s ‘blossoming is a real delight to witness’.
  • George’s magnetic and savvy portrayal of a complicated and vulnerable person was noted by Publishers Weekly.

About the Author, Jessica George

  • Born in London to Ghanaian parents, she studied English Literature at the University of Sheffield.
  • Maame is partly inspired by her own experiences, including caring for her father, who had Parkinson’s disease. She wrote the early stage draft of this novel as a way of processing her grief on his passing.
  • Jessica George works in publishing.