Content Warning: Abuse
Brenda is living in a domestic war zone trying to survive her hostile mother who later on introduces a violent boyfriend. Born to a teenage mother, she learns to depend on herself in all things concerned earning her the nickname of “Little Mama”. Proud of being independent, Brenda also feels the need to protect her mother even if it means getting hurt in the process.
There’s redemption and forgiveness that pervades the illustrations. Imagery of butterflies and suffocating/escaping underwater are metaphors for Brenda’s feelings throughout the stages of her life. Little Mama deals with forgiveness as a device to move forward and at first I had reservations. I personally do not believe you are obligated to forgive someone if they haven’t earned it or do not want it. Prematurely forgiving an abuser can result in a false sense of security before their next episode which happens often to Brenda and her mother. You began to think that they can change easily because they feel remorse, but it’s an act of betrayal when they lash out and attempt to justify it. It’s never their fault obviously because they were doing just fine until you incited their wrath. To be frank, it’s a co-dependent relationship as the abuser blames the victim and the victim feels guilt so they decide to stay. Brenda has to reconcile with her decision to walk away and what it means to those she left behind.
It was difficult reading the comic because there is graphic content depicting the abuse. I think it was necessary in order to hone in on the emotional rollercoaster that is an abusive home life. These include imprisonment, insults, and starvation. This only gets worse as Brenda grows older and both her and her mother face abuse from Vincent. At times, I was shocked and others I felt frustrated. Running parallel to Brenda’s story is one about a social worker trying to intervene. Her perspective mirrors the audience which helps ground the story to discuss the role of outsiders amidst abusive relationships. How do we properly broach it and how difficult it is to not cross the line.
The comic is engaging with a medium that can reach young readers who might not fully understand the extent of abuse aside physical ones. Maybe it’s intentional that Brenda is personified as a little girl in the future timeline to track her mental transformation and interpretation of painful memories. It can just be confusing at times as there aren’t clear transitions. I recommend a second read as it does change how the reader perceives events from the first time around.
The gray cover needs to be darker so that the yellow title doesn’t fade so much. It’s hard to read it as well as lessen the impact of the glowing stomach. As it is now, the cover lacks impact.
Thanks to the publishers and NetGalley for providing an ARC in exchange of a fair review!