Coffee Killed My Mother opens with a dream. Author Donna Stramella uses first person to introduce us to the story’s main character, Anna Lee, leading us through a young girl’s nightmare of abandonment and despair. Or was it a dream?
Building from a dramatic opening, Stramella takes us on a coming-of-age story wrapped around a road trip along the Atlantic seaboard with stops at resorts, motels, restaurants and coffee shops. A lot of coffee shops. Along the way, Stramella uses an intriguing mix of dialogue and backstory to introduce Anna Lee’s troubled past; divorced parents, a stolen friendship, and fears about her mother’s mental health. But when they stop at Virginia Beach, the trip takes a sudden turn off the narrative’s main highway. After a mysterious accident, the story heads onto side roads that expose the roots of a conflicted past that convinces Anna Lee it’s time to leave her mother. Then, a few coffee shops later, while visiting her mother’s hometown, another turn in the road follows a new route that leads toward reconciliation.
Anna Lee’s mother, Jacqueline Pierce, is the enigmatic element in the story, a perfect foil to her teen-aged daughter’s fears and self-doubt. Stramella does a wonderful job of doling out Jacqueline’s persona from behind a curtain of secrets and half-truths that drives the story’s pacing to its unexpected conclusion.
You’ll be turning the pages reading Coffee Killed My Mother wondering what the next roadside stop will uncover about the lives of Anna Lee and Jacqueline while asking yourself; Just how many coffees can that woman drink?