Title: Tea by the Sea
Author: Donna Hemans
Published on: 9th June 2020
Genre: Contemporary Fiction
Plum Valentine was seventeen when she gave birth to a baby girl. She never saw her daughter as the father took away the child. Plum went back to New York, devastated by the loss of her daughter and betrayal by the man she loved. Plum never gave up hope. Eight years later, she returns to Jamaica in search of her missing daughter but no luck.
Lenworth has moved to Anchovy with a day-old baby. He has no idea how to tend to the baby. He takes help from his neighbours and years later, meets a woman who later becomes his wife. But Lenworth is restless. Will his past catch up with him? Opal, his daughter, resembles her mother Plum and Lenworth cannot look at her in the eye – his betrayal stares back at him…
Tea by the Sea is a heart-wrenching and touching story of a mother searching for her lost child. A difficult labor followed by her lover taking away her child has left Plum in an abyss. Plum never had a good childhood either. No matter how hard she tried, her parents were never impressed by her nor did they have any time for their only child.
Plum is sent to Jamaica on false pretenses and this hurts her even more. Just when she thought she had lost everything, she meets Lenworth. They fall in love and she’s expecting their first child.
She wakes up in the hospital after a tiring labor to see her baby missing. The shock of her child taken away hasn’t begun to settle and she’s sent back to New York. Alan, her best friend, decides to wait for her – he wants to marry her but Plum has only one aim – find the missing daughter.
From Jamaica to New York, Tea by the Sea takes the reader on a roller coaster emotional journey. Beautifully written by Donna Hemans, Tea by the Sea is a wonderful piece of literature. I was hooked on to the story and couldn’t put it down until the end. In fact, I didn’t want the story to end.
Donna Hemans has done a wonderful job in portraying Plum’s grief – surely makes the reader emotional. The ending is unexpected. Plum sees a newspaper article with a photo of a man who looks very similar to Lenworth. He’s now a priest at a church in Brooklyn. Plum finally ends her search – she’s going to confront him and demand answers. But is it going to be easy for her? Seventeen years of wait and grief – will Plum be able to confront the man who betrayed her?
Moving, heart-wrenching and exceptionally brilliant, I absolutely recommend Tea by the Sea by Donna Hemans.
EXCERPT FROM THE BOOK
He remembered her as the girl in the red dress on the shop piazza, waving at him, her face scrunching up into a ready smile, her fingers reaching out to grasp at his then pulling back. The girl on the beach, hiding her bathing suit and her body beneath an oversized T-shirt, holding her head in her hands and sobbing, comparing herself to a discarded bag of old clothes her parents found and shipped abroad. She hadn’t been allowed to return to Brooklyn, to the brownstone on President Street, to the friends she hadn’t bid goodbye, to summertime hopscotch and jumping rope. A single summer vacation had turned into one long, unexpected expulsion from the only life she’d known. Expelled. Excommunicated. Exiled. Each day, she had another word for what her parents had done, for how they had re-engineered her life without her knowing it, for how they had sent her away as if she hadn’t mattered at all. Unforgettable. And forgettable. He walked out of the hospital with the baby girl and left Plum there, asleep and expecting to wake and nurse her child. Abandoned. Left again like a bag of old clothes. Liberated, was what he preferred to think. Without a baby holding her back, she would be free to pursue a fuller life – an education and a career – all the things that he had taken from her by making her a mother too early, all the possibilities his own sister, who had left home for the police academy and returned with a baby boy, hadn’t had. He could list more than a handful of girls he knew with stilted and stifled ambitions. He didn’t wish that for Plum.
INTERVIEW WITH DONNA HEMANS
Hello Donna and welcome to my blog The Book Decoder. Tell us about yourself and when you first decided to become a writer.
I’m the author of two novels, River Woman and Tea by the Sea. In addition to writing, I own the DC Writers Room, a co-working space for writers in Washington, DC. My path to writing was quite straightforward. As a child, I was certain I wanted to become a lawyer to stand up for defenseless and downtrodden people. So when I started college, I decided to major in English because I thought that would be the perfect foundation for a law degree. In my second or third year, I took a creative writing class and loved it, and ended up creating an independent study class with the professor from my fiction writing class. For the independent study, we read Zora Neale Hurston’s Their Eyes Were Watching God, and I was so taken with the language and community Hurston depicted in that book, I knew I wanted to do something similar. All my thoughts about law school went out the window and I shifted my energy to writing—both as a journalist and fiction writer.
What is the inspiration for Tea by the Sea?
I had an idea to write a story about two or three strangers who entered a church and refused to leave. Initially, I didn’t have a reason they were there or what they wanted. But a few weeks after writing a section with a mother heading to the church, I was in Jamaica visiting my parents and happened to hear a mother’s call to a radio program called Sunday Contact. Callers typically call the show to make contact with long-lost relatives and friend. That particular day, a mother called in hopes of locating her young son. The child’s father had taken the boy, who at that point was about eight years old. She hadn’t seen the child in years and she didn’t know whether the father and son were still in Jamaica or had migrated. Once I heard the mother’s story, I knew I had the reason the fictional mother had gone to the church and refused to leave. I wanted to capture the lengths to which a mother would go to find a child taken away from her.
What was the most challenging part of writing Tea by the Sea?
The structure proved to be the most challenging. When I first started writing the novel, I wanted to write a story that took place over a 24- to 36-hour period. I envisioned Plum leaving her house and heading to the church where she knew Lenworth would likely be, and refusing to leave. With that version a lot of the story ended up being told via flashback upon flashback. While a story told with a series of flashbacks can work, I found that I was in an endless loop of flashbacks that slowed the pace of the story. So two drafts later I dropped the original 24-hour timeline and spread the story out over 17 years. That was a big challenge, but one I’m willing to tackle again if I ever find the right story that works well with that structure.
Are you currently working on a new book?
Yes, I’m finishing up a novel that I started ages ago and set aside to work on other projects. Now that I have returned to it, I’ve seen it with new eyes, and written a version of that story that a younger me would not have been able to write.
What does a day in Donna Hemans’ life look like?
My days are hard to describe now. The COVID-19 lockdown’s changed my routines in a number of ways, and it might be some time before I can get back to what is normal for me. But generally, I like to get up before sunrise, and write fiction before I do anything else or have a chance to be distracted. After breakfast, I turn to the freelance writing I do or the administrative tasks of running the DC Writers Room.
You can follow the blog tour here.
Many thanks to Rachel Gul of OTRPR for the blog tour invite.