Amanda Haggard

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As we grow, we come to reckon with the pieces of ourselves that originate from the people who raised us. The realization can be both empowering and painful as we recognize the good and ugly traits we’ve absorbed and the lessons our parents imparted that we took to heart. In The Mango Tree: A Memoir of Fruit, Florida, and Felony, Annabelle Tometich untangles her identity in light of the unbearable moments she experienced being raised by a struggling and often enraged Filipino mother, and the loss of her white father who died during her childhood, taking with him the upper-middle-class privilege that he afforded her.

“All I wanted as a child was to be normal, to hide my weird family, their weird deaths and weird antics behind a big GPA and a spot as captain of the swim team,” she writes. “As an adult, I still strive for this ideal, knowing full well the impossibility of it.”

Her memoir begins in a Florida courtroom where her mother faces a felony charge for shooting out a man’s window in retaliation for picking a mango from her tree. The case, and tree, are a touchstone throughout the book as Tometich navigates her life story. Her mother and father fought mercilessly before his death. After her mother was left to parent on her own and went to work as a nurse, Tometich helped raise her younger siblings.

Tometich, now a food writer, started her career in medical school, then worked as a chef, and eventually landed a job at the sports desk at The News Press in Fort Myers, Florida. Here, she got the dreaded call from a co-worker about her mother’s court case. Anyone with a less than normal family can relate.

Not-so-perfect family dynamics—and the wounds that emerge from them—are popular literary fuel because of their universality. Yet it’s rare to see an author give an honest account of every bit of it, which in this case includes added layers of tragedy, racism and class struggle: the sting of hearing her grandmother use a slur against her mother, the bittersweetness of seeing her mother care for Tometich’s own child, the reckoning about the harm that was intended as good parenting. And, of course, the moment Tometich comes to recognize that it really is impossible to separate herself from her upbringing. In the end, The Mango Tree reminds us that all trees derive strength from their roots.

Annabelle Tometich’s memoir, The Mango Tree, may be about a fractured mother-daughter relationship, but it also understands that all trees derive strength from their roots.

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