Book Reviews

Sweet Baby Mine

Why can’t the bad things we’ve done in the past, stay in the past? Ana will do anything to hold on to her husband. Tony is the love of her life–the Heathcliff to her Catherine, the Rivera to her Kahlo, the Sid to her Nancy. Without him, she’s nothing. Tony is smart, driven, and accomplished. He takes pleasure in being Ana’s champion. He knows he is the one man who can save her from herself. But their marriage is put to the test when their estranged daughter, Chloe, texts Ana to say she wants to come home–mother and daughter share a secret so dark that if Chloe ever revealed it, it would destroy Ana’s marriage. Readers who enjoy Gillian Flynn’s antiheroines and Colleen Hoover’s heart-wrenching romantic thrillers will love Sweet Baby Mine. Rife with intergenerational patterns of mental illness, addiction, and trauma, Sweet Baby Mine is the powerful tale of the impact secrets, lies, and betrayals can have on a marriage. While the plot is devoted to both Ana and Tony, American expats living in Paris, the inner journey belongs to Ana as her daughter’s return sets off a painful chain of events that forces her to confront her demons, find her voice, and realize sometimes love can be found in the unlikeliest of places.

Sweet Baby Mine, by Maria Daversa is a story about secrets. It’s a story about love. It’s a story about mental health. It’s a story about damaged people trying to make their way through life and the toll this takes on those around them. Sweet Baby Mine is all these things, and together they form a tale that is raw, that is beautiful, that is heartbreaking, and most of all, that is honest.

As it tells the story of its two protagonists, Ana and Tony, Sweet Baby Mine sets the scene, promising the rescue of their estranged daughter, Chloe. From whom, or from what they are rescuing Chloe from is a mystery that will be revealed as the story unfolds; it then shifts back to the days leading up to this rescue. As Sweet Baby Mine continues past its opening, it becomes clear that this mystery surrounding the rescue sets Ana and Tony down the narrative path, but it is their stories—who they are, what secrets they hold, why they exist as a married couple—that form the true narrative of this novel.

Throughout its 298 pages in paperback (or its estimated 288 pages on Kindle), Sweet Baby Mine is a literary story told from two very different points of view, those of Ana and Tony. Written in the first person, each chapter swaps between Ana and Tony, telling their sides of a dysfunctional marriage between a wife living with borderline personality disorder (BPD) and a narcissistic husband, each of them harbouring secrets with the potential to destroy their marriage. To elaborate on these secrets would be to spoil the book, especially as each revelation packs its own punch; this is a book that has been finely tuned to provide the reader information when the story demands it.

These characters couldn’t be more different from each other; they are chalk and cheese, whose needs and wants are miles apart from the other’s. Throughout the novel, Daversa’s use of the first person perspective provides a stunning insight into its characters. Where many books could be written in either the first or third person, it is evident that Sweet Baby Mine needed to be told in the first person with the two narratives to tell its story and to allow the reader to gain a full understanding of these characters. Both protagonists are far from perfect people, and each has made plenty of mistakes. Through the narrative, Daversa has created beautifully realised characters that the reader can’t help but feel for and care about. You want these characters to get their happily ever afters, you can’t help but root for them to find the peace they need, and despite their various actions, that they deserve.

In the author bio included in the book, Daversa mentions she is a clinical psychologist with experience working with women living with BPD. She also thanks a host of experts in the field for the insights they provided as she worked on the novel. This knowledge, and the research involved, have truly paid off—Ana’s personality disorder is raw and unvarnished, and feels entirely honest throughout. Through her narration, the reader understands her way of thinking; my heart broke for her many times. Likewise, the toll this takes on Tony is portrayed beautifully, as he does the best he can, given his narcissism. And naturally, this narcissism takes its own toll on Ana. Between the two of them, their personality disorders collide, while also feeding off each other, creating a perpetual loop they find themselves stuck in.

For the most part, the other characters in Sweet Baby Mine serve to flesh out the plot and the book’s emotional poignancy. While they are written well, this is not their story; it is Ana and Tony’s. We see the impact these characters have on the protagonists’ lives and we see how the lead characters relate and react to them, but the book’s focus is squarely on the two leads. While in many books, this approach could feel like the supporting characters have been underwritten, here, this works to the book’s advantage: if more space was used to fleshing the supporting characters out, the story would lose its narrative focus and dilute the story.

The author’s prose is clean and clear, and establishes the novel’s world beautifully. Daversa doesn’t use an unnecessarily flowery style, but her words still convey the beauty of the story. As it features characters who have moved to Paris from the United States, she has injected French words and phrases into the prose which add character to the world and the setting. Likewise, the dialogue is easy to read. All the characters have distinct voices, and all the conversations feel authentic, with the conversations adding to the book’s honesty.

Even though Sweet Baby Mine builds a mystery about Chloe’s rescue, it is not a fast-paced book. Nor does it feel slow; it methodically moves the plot forward, revealing more about its characters as the story progresses. Throughout my time reading it, I struggled to pull myself away, with each chapter beckoning me to read the next.

Sweet Baby Mine tells an expertly crafted story about its characters. As it reveals more about Ana and Tony, the secrets they hide from each other, and provides more detail about their marriage and their lives together, it paints a stunning picture. At times heartbreaking, this book is a thing of beauty. More than a novel, it is an experience that needs to be read.

Favourite Passage

I spit in the sink and pat my mouth with the corner of the towel. I tap Kooks on the head again. He lifts his chin, and the squeaky ball comes loose and rolls leisurely across the floor. Yet, rather than head into the bedroom to dress, I pick up my iPad, close out of my inbox, and fire up my Space Galaxy app where I mount my very own customized space ship and begin to annihilate alien ships at breakneck speed. I am the most valiant ruler of the galaxy. I am the divine lord of the universe. It is for this reason that I will see Chloe again.

Sweet Baby Mine, Chapter 8: “Tony”

Sweet Baby Mine was purchased for the purpose of an honest review.

Sweet Baby Mine is available in paperback (including—but not limited to—Amazon) and Kindle (exclusive to Amazon).

Note: I do not post scores for reviews on this website, but do post them on my Amazon and Goodreads reviews:

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Sweet Baby Mine

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