Hand Me Downs


Young Adult - Coming of Age
440 Pages
Reviewed on 03/21/2022
Buy on Amazon

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    Book Review

Reviewed by Bernadette Longu for Readers' Favorite

In Hand Me Downs, author Michele Carter has written an inspirational, interesting, and humbling book. Once I started, it was hard to put the book down and I found myself reading well into the night in between trying to keep up with the rest of my work. Michele has taken her own life experiences and turned them into a most intriguing tale. The book really starts in the year 1936 and it takes the reader on a journey through the years up until 2003. Readers meet Cynthia from the age of 7, her father Harrison, Aunt Liza Mungi, Anna, Jesse, Florence, Laurence Greene, and Harry, Cynthia’s older brother. An assortment of characters wanders in and out; some stay for a long time, some visit for a short time, but each is important to the unfolding of this story based on the author's life.

Hand Me Downs shows us how our grandparents' and parents' actions can affect the life of their children and how they pass the same actions on to their children. As an adult, a person very rarely consults a child as to whether they are happy with the situation they find themselves in, such as having an affair, moving away from all the people the children know, standing by the chosen spouse even when it is evident that the spouse is wrong. The author brings to light how we have all been mentally or physically abused without realizing or being aware it was happening in our lifetime. This book is a must-read as I found it to be a big help with putting incidents in my life into perspective and understanding the withdrawal of my children’s friendship and visits, even if I don’t fully understand it yet. Michelle Carter has written a really wonderful, page-turning read. Thank you for taking me on a delightful journey of discovery and help. This is a book for all ages, not just for the young generation.

Jennifer Ibiam

Hand Me Downs by Michele Carter is a novel based on the author’s life story. After enduring abuse from her husband, Jesse, Cynthia returned to New York with her babies, Mickey and Jesse Jr. She reunited with her childhood best friend, Anna, who was already married to Laurence. Unfortunately, Anna’s mental health interfered with her ability to take care of the home and twin boys. Cynthia stepped in to help her best friend, and while taking one day at a time, she and Anna’s husband fell in love. Their forbidden love grew intense, and the next step for them was a betrayal. The couple packed up their children from both sides and escaped to California, leaving their wife and best friend alone and empty. But time would tell as the story takes us on a journey through their lives.

Hand Me Downs by Michele Carter took me on an emotional rollercoaster that left me speechless and pondering. This gripping tale about the author’s life sailed through betrayal, grief, survival, forgiveness, faith, regrets, growth, secrets, and more. Michele aptly captured her survival journey from the 1950s and into the 1960s. I had nothing but admiration for her strength because it was a case of surviving. The five children also turned out fine, and I am grateful for that. There was a lot to unpack, and many questions ran through my mind. Do I have such a capacity for forgiveness? Where did the formidable Cynthia go? Why do people think they can build happiness on a person’s pain and sleep with both eyes closed? How could anyone live with such a level of hypocrisy? I could go on. The narrative and throwback writing style made the book fun to read. Thank you for sharing your story, Michele.

K.C. Finn

Hand Me Downs is a work of fiction in the coming of age and drama subgenres. It is aimed at young adult readers and was penned by author Michele E. Carter. The book is a fictionalized memoir based on the life of the author and her mother, chronicling her mother Cynthia’s affair with a married man named Laurence and the ensuing new life they made for themselves and their children 3000 miles away from home. Now presenting themselves to the world as a preacher and his wife, Cynthia and her children come to fear Laurence as his true nature becomes apparent over time.

This blend of fictional drama and emotional memoir paints a beautiful picture of the era in which it is set, then fills the world of the story with complex characters bouncing off each other in a seamless and organic way that makes the lines between fiction and fact melt away. Michele E. Carter has opened her heart onto the pages with this work and created a sweeping and powerful tale about love, family, and hardship that will resonate with readers. The evolution of Laurence in particular throughout the early stages of the story was heartbreaking to read, going from being a beacon of love and passion in Cynthia’s life to being a source of unease and tyranny. Hand Me Downs doesn’t shy away from pulling on the reader's heartstrings as it dances between the warm and happy moments in the lives of the family and the darker moments where happiness feels like a distant dream.

Jamie Michele

Hand Me Downs by Michele E Carter is a fictional memoir based on the non-fiction life and experiences of its author as she is thrust into her mother's journey. Set in the mid-20th century, Carter begins with a look into little Mickey and what her young life has become before she even turned ten. The book begins with some backstory from Mickey, who is the book's primary first-person narrator, and who lets us know the most pertinent facts upfront. The father she doesn't know is no longer her father, her mother, named Cynthia, has had a baby with her new father, Mr. Laurence, who is married, and all four of them alongside her brother and Mr. Laurence's two sons are driving cross-country to start a new life as one big unhappy family. The book shifts between point-of-view characters as the story builds, California comes into view, identities change, and it turns out that there are actually fifteen commandments—the new five, compliments of the adulterous Reverend [aka Mr. Lawrence].

Art imitating life, it's said, right? Michele E Carter takes the art form to an elevated level in Hand Me Downs, which might just be one of the best quasi-memoirs I've read in the past year. The story is equal parts entertaining and sad. My favorite in the former category is actually the courtship of the married but otherwise man-less Cynthia by her very married Mr. Lawrence. The latter is the heart-breaking loss that Anna endures when she realizes Cynthia and Mr. Lawrence have left and stolen her two young sons to take with them. Anna's loss is shared as a point of view character and the beauty of Carter's work is that we are left to decide for ourselves who we are supposed to champion here, aside from the obvious Mickey. The characters are incredibly well developed and I love, love, love the feisty Jamaican, Auntie Liza Mungin, who is just one of many that we get to know with absolute clarity. The backdrop of mid-century America is a fabulous setting and I have no doubt this book will receive many accolades and love from all who are fortunate enough to read it.

Stephanie Chapman

Hand Me Downs features several characters looking for happiness. Michele E Carter depicts life growing up in the 50s. The story opens with her sitting in the back seat next to her brother and stepbrothers. Her mother, younger half-sister, and Laurence Greene sit in the front seat. They are driving away from New York City and are headed to California to start a new life. Michele “Mickey” describes the myriad of family members they are leaving behind. Her mother Cynthia can see no faults in Laurence, even though he is married to Anna, her best friend. Mickey has no idea who her father is and despises her mother’s love interest. The narrative alternates between Mickey, Cynthia, and Laurence. The main part of the story is about what led to the illicit love affair between Cynthia and Laurence. The second half of the story tells of their life in California.

I was happy that this story didn’t fully focus primarily on racism. While Hand Me Downs does mention how Michele’s parents earned less because of their race, the story theme focused on family ties and relationships. I was disappointed at how Laurence and Cynthia engaged in their affair, especially when poor Anna had always looked at Cynthia as someone she adored. Honestly, I disliked Cynthia for being so passive when Laurence went overboard with punishing the children. Cynthia seemed to think love, whether real or fake, would always solve everything. At one point, she set up a marriage for Mickey to the neighbor’s son, with the thought they would learn to love each other. The transitions between the narrators were easy to follow, and at the beginning of each title, it would name the perspective of the narrator. The end of the book concluded well without leaving any loose ends. I would recommend Hand Me Downs by Michele E Carter to anyone who likes a family drama depicted during the 1950s.

Rabia Tanveer

Hand Me Downs by Michele E Carter is a coming-of-age story set in the 50s and 60s. Following the life of Michele’s mother Cynthia, readers see a family that might be very ordinary but stays hidden from the eyes of the world. When Cynthia ran away with her best friend’s husband and children, she had no idea her life would become a mess. Running away with Laurence was the easy part; living with him was another story. Settling in a new city became even more difficult as Lawrence suddenly became religious and became a reverend. He was far too strict, rigid, and completely different from the man she fell in love with. What would Cynthia and the four children do now?

Author Michele E. Carter paints a vivid and very descriptive picture of what happened in her mother’s life in Hand Me Downs. I could easily imagine poor Cynthia’s confusion and the utter shock of the children as Laurence did a complete 360-degree change. The plot was deceptively simple, but it was far more complex. The author added plenty of emotions, action, and character arcs to the complexity of the plot. At the same time, she kept the narrative simple and effective. I felt sympathetic to the characters and wanted to console the kids who were lost in a strange place with an even stranger man. However, the change was toughest on Cynthia.

The author invited readers into the lives of her mother and her siblings as they learned to grow up in the house of a man who was extreme in every sense of the word. Cynthia had to struggle with the man she loved changing, becoming the woman who “stole Laurence,” and at the same time being the voice of reason and support for the children. The author highlighted the tough times, the good times, and the tragic times of their lives in the simplest and most relatable manner. This emotional and entertaining novel will be a catharsis for many readers.