Review

Letter to My Daughter

by George Bishop

While downing her third cup of coffee in the middle of the
night after hearing her daughter, Liz, drive away, Laura
begins to write her a letter. She explains that she wanted to
be a better mother than the mother she had, one who was more
understanding, nurturing and forgiving. Laura’s mother had
plenty of rules on what to do and what not to do, but no good,
honest advice on how to grow from a confused teenage girl into a
confident, competent young woman. The family lived in rural
southern Louisiana during the late ’60s and ’70s, a
remarkably unsettling time in America. Civil rights problems shared
the newspaper headlines with a misunderstood war in a faraway place
called Vietnam.

In her letter, Laura begins with 1969. Her parents are strict,
racially intolerant Baptists, and home life is unpleasant and
stifling for Laura. They are unhappy that she is
attending school with “colored” students, and they
forbid her to see Tim, a senior who comes from a disadvantaged
Cajun family. When they find Tim and Laura sharing a very
intimate moment, they banish Tim from their home and send Laura
away to a Catholic boarding school in Baton Rouge.

Tim enlists in the Army, which is one way to avoid being
drafted. He feels enthusiastic about his decision and manages to
communicate with Laura through a series of letters. Sister Mary
Margaret, a sympathetic nun, hides the contraband in a special
book in the library for Laura. While Tim quickly learns the
stark reality of war, Laura struggles both at boarding school and
at home during school vacations. Her social skills are
awkward, and there is no one to point her in the right direction
or even help her avoid the wrong direction. Laura makes
some poor choices based partly upon her immaturity and inability to
appreciate the consequences of her actions, which damage her
reputation and cause her a great deal of guilt.

The war is going badly, and now Tim’s letters are full of
anguish and confusion. He becomes another victim of war, and his
death is a huge blow for Laura to absorb. To mark her
feelings for Tim, she goes to a tattoo parlor and has a few certain
words inked on her hip in his memory. Word gets out at school that
Laura has a tattoo, and she is promptly expelled. Though it seems
this is a very dark tale, stick with it to the end and see that
sometimes justice prevails after all.

The reader is never told what Liz and Laura’s disagreement
is about. But with teenagers and parents, sometimes it
doesn’t take much for a full blown row to occur, so we are
left to fill in the blanks. As Laura writes down the painful
memories of her own teenage years, she promises to be a better
mother to Liz when she returns.

Perhaps the most amazing aspect of this debut novel is the fact
that the author is a man who never married or became a parent. That
he could have such a clear understanding of the sometimes
difficult mother-daughter relationship is quite unique.

Reviewed by Carole Turner on December 30, 2010

Letter to My Daughter
by George Bishop

  • Publication Date: February 16, 2010
  • Genres: Fiction
  • Hardcover: 160 pages
  • Publisher: Ballantine Books
  • ISBN-10: 0345515986
  • ISBN-13: 9780345515988