Orange Mint and Honey

Orange Mint and Honey

by Carleen Brice


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“A wonderful, jazzy, exciting read.”
–Nikki Giovanni, author of Acolytes

Broke and burned-out from grad school, Shay Dixon does the unthinkable after receiving a “vision” from her de facto spiritual adviser, blues singer Nina Simone. She phones Nona, the mother she had all but written off, asking if she can come home for a while.

When Shay was growing up, Nona was either drunk, hungover, or out with her latest low-life guy. So Shay barely recognizes the new Nona, now sober and with a positive outlook on life, a love of gardening, and a toddler named Sunny. Though reconciliation seems a hard proposition for Shay, something unmistakable is taking root inside her, waiting to blossom like the morning glories opening up in Nona’s garden sanctuary.

Soon Shay finds herself facing exciting possibilities and even her first real romantic relationship. But when an unexpected crisis hits, even the wise words and soulful melodies of Nina Simone may not be enough for solace. Shay begins to realize that, like orange mint and honey, sometimes life tastes better when bitter is followed by sweet.

“Carleen Brice has woven her talent for storytelling into a funny, sad, and perceptive novel that speaks to all of us who navigate less-than-perfect relationships with our parents or children.”
–Elyse Singleton, author of This Side of the Sky

“Brice deftly shows the importance and joy of understanding our past and not only forgiving those who hurt us, but loving them in spite of that hurt. Readers of Terry McMillan and Bebe Moore Campbell will find a new writer to watch.”
–Judy Merrill Larsen, author of All the Numbers

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780345499066
Publisher: Random House Publishing Group
Publication date: 02/12/2008
Pages: 336
Sales rank: 548,866
Product dimensions: 4.44(w) x 7.28(h) x 0.70(d)

About the Author

Carleen Brice was named 2008 “Breakout Author of the Year” by The African American Literary Awards Show for her debut novel, Orange Mint and Honey, which was also an Essence Book Club selection. Brice is also the author of Walk Tall: Affirmations for People of Color, and Lead Me Home: An African American’s Guide Through the Grief Journey. She edited the anthology Age Ain’t Nothing but a Number: Black Women Explore Midlife. She lives in Denver, Colorado, with her husband and two cats.

Read an Excerpt

Orange Mint and Honey

A Novel
By Carleen Brice

One World/Ballantine

Copyright © 2008 Carleen Brice
All right reserved.

ISBN: 9780345499066

Chapter 1

What Would Nina Simone Do?

i should have known things were getting bad when Nina Simone showed up. Don’t get me wrong. I love Nina. I’ve been listening to her since History of Jazz sophomore year. The professor taught us to worship the great men of jazz, but it was the women who drew me in: Billie Holiday, Ella Fitzgerald, Sarah Vaughan, Dinah Washington, Bessie Smith, Mildred Bailey. They were queens, priestesses, goddesses—encouraging me, pointing me away from danger, schooling me in the ways of life. Especially Nina Simone.

I listened to Nina Simone a thousand times, and I always got something from her music. But the night she came to me for the first time she must have known I needed more than a song could offer. I knew a famous singer—and a dead one at that—shouldn’t have been in my bedroom, but somehow I wasn’t surprised to see her because I had been wishing she were there. Wishing she would tell me what to do.

Usually when I was down I could keep going. But this time I bumped up against something that I couldn’t get over, a wall as hard and cold and impossible to see through as frosted glass. I had lost my job writing grant proposals for an indigent-care clinic,stopped going to class, and received an eviction notice from my landlord. But still all I could do was listen to music, hanging on to the life preserver of Nina Simone’s eerie, regal voice.

That night, I was listening to the fast version of “House of the Rising Sun.” It’s a live recording, seven minutes long. Nina gets so into it, you can’t make out what she’s singing. Behind her, the band chants “rising sun, rising sun” over and over, and the audience claps to the fast beat. The piano, the clapping hands, and the tambourine sound like church and juke joints, like sweat and heat, free and alive. I started dancing. I hadn’t had the energy to get out of my pajamas for a week, but “House of the Rising Sun” had me shaking my head back and forth, twirling in circles, and pumping my arms and legs up and down like I was performing a tribal ritual, like I was one of Alvin Ailey’s dancers. I danced through the song three times until all thoughts of jobs and grad school and unpaid bills were erased from my mind, and I could sleep.

At 3:33 a.m. I opened my eyes and Nina Simone was there, as if I had conjured her, standing in front of my bedroom window, blue moonlight spotlighting her features—thick lips, proud nose, slanted eyes rimmed in kohl like Cleopatra’s. I had been asking myself for days WWNSD (What would Nina Simone do?) and now she had come to tell me. I didn’t know if she was a ghost or a hallucination, and I didn’t care. Eyes wide, heart thumping like the speakers in the car of a teenaged boy, I sat up and waited for Nina Simone to say something wise, to tell me how to fix the mess I’d made of my life, to comfort me, and convince me that I had everything I needed to move forward inside me.

“You’ve really screwed up now,” she said.


“You heard me.”

That’s how low I had sunk. Even the spirits of the dead or my own daydreams were turning on me. “I thought you were going to offer me some advice!”

“You’re a grown woman. Why should I tell you what to do?”

It sounded bad when she said it. But I was tired. Tired of always having to figure things out, tired of always having to do everything myself. I’d been taking care of myself since I was eight years old. So for someone else to tell me what to do was exactly what I wanted. For once in my life, I wanted someone else to carry the load. “Because I need help!” I shouted. They were words I had never said before. But then again Nina Simone had never been in my apartment before. It was a night of firsts.

”You got that right,” she said, taking in the mounds of dirty clothes, used Kleenexes, heaps of junk mail, textbooks, CDs, notebooks, and milk-crusted cereal bowls and teacups.

“What I need is . . . is just a break. A rest. A time-out.”

Just the week before, Carl, my advisor, had convinced me that time off was what I needed. Actually, he had “strongly suggested” that I take a year off.

“No!” I had yelled, the most intense emotion I had shown in forever. As exhausted and sick of everything as I was I couldn’t just drop out. I couldn’t be away from school for an entire year.

He stared at me, even more worried.

“I mean, I can’t fall that far behind. I can take a semester off. You’re right, a semester off will do me some good.”

“Okay,” he said, relief washing over his face.

I guess since that MIT student set herself on fire a few years ago—even after visiting the mental health service—the plan was to get depressed college students off campus ASAP. Let them be someone else’s lawsuit in the making.

“What will you do with your time off?”

“I have no idea.” What did people do with time off? I had never taken a day off in my life. If I didn’t have to work, I still had papers to write or tests to study for. Even during the summers I took at least one class or put in extra hours at work. I’d never even skipped school before now. Playing hooky was something that bad kids, going-to-end-up-just-like-their-parents kids did.

“What about your family? Friends? Don’t you have anybody who can help?”

You would think that since I was sitting in front of him in dirty, rumpled clothes and a bandanna on my head, looking like “Who shot John?” as my old hairdresser Belinda used to say, he would know the answer to that question.

Of course, being an academic, he wasn’t much better dressed. Like me, he had on the requisite khakis and button-down shirt. We could have been twins except his clothes probably didn’t come straight out of the hamper. He still thought I was like all his other students, who got care packages, plane tickets, and checks from home. But all I ever got from Nona were postcards from her new, allegedly sober, life. And friends? The last good friend I had was in high school. Stephanie was still back in Denver. I hadn’t spoken to her since we graduated.

“I’ll be fine,” I said.

“I don’t know what’s going on, but you might want to see someone. You know? A professional. I want you to come back ready to finish your thesis.”

My thesis was just one of many things that had stalled. I nodded, exhausted. All I wanted to do was go back home and turn on my music.

“Let’s touch base in a month or so. Send me an e-mail, let me know how you’re doing.”

“I’ll be fine,” I repeated.

Though, clearly, I was far from fine. Things had only gotten worse. I had been “resting” for a week now, and look what happened: A dead woman was sitting in my bedroom talking to me.

“Go home, Shay,” Nina Simone said.

She knew my name.

“You need to go home,” she said.

She must have read my mind, which shouldn’t have been too hard considering there was a good chance she was being generated from the same place. But like Carl, she didn’t understand.

The last time I saw Nona I was in my junior year in college. She came to Iowa City when she reached the step where they make you apologize. She was very pregnant, and I couldn’t believe how ugly she was. Her face was all broken out and she must have gained fifty, sixty pounds. Not just in her breasts and stomach, but in her face, arms, hands, back, butt, and thighs. The bags under her eyes were puffed up like pot stickers. Even her feet were fat.

When I saw her, saw how heavy and zitty she was, I was almost happy she had come. I kept my eyes on her bloated feet the whole time she read her apology. Her voice shook. I don’t remember exactly what she said. Something about being sorry she let me down, sorry I learned I couldn’t trust her. But I remember her saying something about us “being mother and daughter again” and, even though I was looking down at her feet, I saw her rest her hand on her stomach when she said the word mother.

That was too much. Acting like her pregnancy was a good thing, not a horrible, stupid mistake. I had actually been hopeful when she told me she was going to A.A. For the first few months I thought, Wow, she’s really going to do it this time. Stupid me, I actually let myself believe her. Then she got pregnant. Knocked up by a guy she met in A.A., who promptly left her high and dry just like my own father had; and there she was expecting me to believe that things were different. She couldn’t even do A.A. without going off with some guy! She was thirty-six years old and she had never heard of birth control? Never heard of AIDS or chlamydia or herpes?

She told me she hoped I would give her another chance. I think she wanted me to shout “I forgive you!” and throw myself into her arms. But I just stared at her feet, at the flesh rising like bread dough over the straps of her red sandals.

Nina Simone gingerly toed a pair of jeans out of her way, revealing the panties I had worn with them weeks ago tangled up inside, and walked toward me. I hoped she wouldn’t get too close. It had been a while since I had seen soap and water. I was cloaked in a cloud of funk toxic enough to re-kill a dead woman.

She sat on the foot of my bed. “You could rest. Let your mother take care of you.”

I snorted. “That’s not how it worked. I took care of Nona. And I’m done.”

“Maybe it would be different. Maybe you’ve got nothing to lose.”

I doubted it would be very different, but she was right about my having nothing to lose. Spending the next few months in my old VW Bug didn’t sound very appealing. But still I hesitated.

“Go home,” Nina Simone urged, her long earrings swinging like chandeliers.

So I picked up the phone and called Nona for the first time in seven years.


Excerpted from Orange Mint and Honey by Carleen Brice Copyright © 2008 by Carleen Brice. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Reading Group Guide

1. Forgiveness is a central theme in the novel. Explore the ways in which Shay, Nona, Stephanie, Lois, Ivy, and Oliver take steps to forgive or not forgive one another. How does each person redeem (or not) him- or herself?

2. What do you think the author’s perspective is on forgiveness? In your own life, what paths to forgiveness have you taken? Do you think the past ever ceases to matter, when it comes to matters of forgiveness and redemption?

3. In what ways does Shay show her love and hate for her mother? Do you feel more sympathetic toward or side with either of the two women more than the other? Why?

4. At what point in the novel does Shay stop constantly recounting her mother’s past? In what ways does Shay finally start to open up to Nona?

5. Motherhood is a pivotal theme in Carleen’s debut novel: There are many mothers and daughters, surrogate mothers, and surrogate daughters in Orange Mint and Honey. Discuss the roles of motherhood–and daughterhood–each of the main women characters play. What makes a woman a mother?

6. Throughout the novel, Shay is on the cusp of womanhood. At what point(s) does she decide and actually begin to grow up and embrace her future? Pinpoint in your own lives a moment or experience in which you started to become an adult woman.

7. There are several sisters and surrogate-sister relationships in Orange Mint and Honey: Shay and Sunny, Lois and Nona, Ivy and Shay. Explore each dynamic and how they are sisters to each other.

8. Throughout the novel, Shay is determined to make Nona “pay” for her past mistakes as a mother. At a gathering of recovering alcoholics Shay thinks: “Where were the signs of the wrong choices they had made? Years of drinking should have ravaged these women. I wanted scars.” And “It was all I could do not to run back into the kitchen and let her have it, but she wanted it too much. Silence was how I could make her pay.” Do you think Nona deserves Shay’s punishment? Why or why not? In your own life or in society as a whole, explore the various degrees of “mistakes” that mothers are allowed or not allowed to make. What are their consequences?

9. What do you think Nina Simone’s role in the story is? Why does Shay admire Nina so much? Explore the role music plays in Orange Mint and Honey.

10. Why do you think Shay pulls her hair (a condition known as trichotillomania)? In what ways does your body show its stress and overwhelming emotions?

11. Part of Nona’s recovery is working in the garden. What role does the garden play in Nona’s and Shay’s lives? In your own lives, is there a similar space that you see as healing?

12. Oliver is a powerful force in Shay’s life. What part did he play in her maturing and becoming a woman? Why do you think she decided not to continue her relationship with him? Do you think she could have–or should have–continued to be with him?

13. When Shay returns home, she sees that Stephanie’s home and her personal style are extremely different than what they used to be. What is the significance of this? Discuss one of your close friendships that may have shifted after the two of you had been close in childhood or college. Why do you think that shift occurred?

14. After being in a relationship with Oliver and after yelling at Nona in church, Shay’s feelings had become “completely out of control” and an “emotional overflow.” Why do you think this happened and why is it significant? Discuss a time in your own life when you have felt and done the same.

15. Shay tries so hard to not be like her mother. Throughout the novel, in what ways are Shay and Nona different, and in what ways do their choices and personalities become more similar? What about for you and your own mother or mother figure?

Customer Reviews

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Orange Mint and Honey 4.5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 33 reviews.
SVS More than 1 year ago
This book was incredibly engaging and very well written. It was an easy read, but didn't feel simplistic. The characters were well developed and fully relatable. Nothing seemed over the top which is a commendable effort with a story full of drama and emotion. We read this for my book club and all the ladies felt this book was a great read and would highly recommend it.
Tia_Readmaster_Stew More than 1 year ago
I brought this book after reading the reviews that Jill Scott was starring in a movie based on this book. I wasn't sure what I was buying but from day one when I downloaded the book on my Iphone I couldn't put my phone down. The plot and message was clear. I love it! I also watched the movie, "Sins of the mother." on Lifetime and it was exactly like the book. Never had I read a book and watch a movie and it was so much a lot. I would recommend this book to everyone who loves to read or have issues forgiving their parent.
DarleneGinn-Hargrove More than 1 year ago
Guest More than 1 year ago
'Orange Mint and Honey' by Carleen Brice delivers an emotionally explosive story with universal appeal. The mother/daughter relationship, the struggles of addiction, and the challenges of making choices in life are interwoven themes that draw the reader into the story of Shay Dixon and her recovering alcoholic mother Nona. A must read for anyone who has had to struggle with personal regrets or forgiveness of others for the very human blunders we make in life. The talented Brice takes her readers on a journey of the unexpected in this touching and realistic story of discovery.
altima313 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
¿Orange Mint and Honey¿ held my attention from the opening paragraph to the very end. This book was refreshing, real, uplifting and enjoyable read with short chapters that get straight to the point. The characters, with all their flaws, were very likeable. The author has an easy way with words, conveying much insight and wit when you least expect it. As well, for me, it brought compassion for Shay and Nona. There are many layers to this story that make it a satisfying reading experience; alcoholism, Trichotillomania (impulse control disorder), domestic abuse, gardening, virginity, infidelity and many other issues. Also, well-developed secondary or supporting characters; such as Ivy, a recovering alcoholic, drug abuser and prostitute, and I Loved Oliver, Shay's first "real boyfriend." I liked the way Shay¿s character grew and how Carleen Brice uses the spirit of Shay¿s favorite singer, the late Nina Simone, to move the character along. It was a wonderful read. Women of all races will be able to identify with the characters. I was happy with the way the novel ended and I¿ll be anxiously awaiting the Lifetime movie and her second novel ¿Children of the Waters.¿
noodlejet22 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I was at first very skeptical of Shay and carried a bit of animosity towards her. Mental illness, deep rooted pain, or selfishness? The book begins with her burnt out from grad school and unable to complete her master's thesis in epidemiology. Nina Simone appears to her and tells her that she must return home to see her mother. What results is a whirlwind of emotion, resentment, self-discovery, forgiveness, and understanding around her mother's past alcohol addiction, her younger half sister's [better] life, old friends, new loves and of course growing up. Brice creates characters that are unapologetic and at the same time remorseful for their situations. Rounded out by the cyclical connections of mother/daughter relationships and gardening the novel puts the past and the present into full view. We see that relationships can be righted and women can be whole again, women can be powerful in their support for each other. Brice shows this through the roles of mothers and what it means to mother. Women can mother their children, their friends, even their own mothers. Throughout the book I was afraid that the message would be that what women need to be whole and to heal is the love of a man. We see that this is not the case. Shay was able to realize that society's ideas of family and womanhood and the logical next steps for a young woman may not be right for her. And she was okay with that realization.
melorock on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I really loved this book and the transformation of the characters within the story. I was alittle dissapointed about the ending but I won't spill the beans on that. All in all a very very good read.
phh333 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This books would create a lot of discussion for book clubs. There are even recipes in the back. I found the mother's behavior puzzling throughout most of the book. The daughter's behavior was irritating, but more understandable. But she was pretty immature for someone who essentially raised herself.
Donura1 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
RATING:5 out of 5Why did I wait so long to read this book? I was lucky enough to snag a hard cover copy back in September of 2009 but somehow kept putting it further down on the pile. Must have truly been overrun with ARC¿s. Finally, I decided I must devour it before the ¿made for TV¿ movie airs which just happens to be this Sunday on Lifetime. I never like to see the movie before I read the book. This was a simple feat because once I picked up the book; I could not put it down.Don¿t get me wrong. This is not light reading. The subject of conflict between mother and daughter is always raw and hurtful. Shay Dixon had raised herself for all practical purposes as her mother, Nona was a stone alcoholic, and stayed drunk throughout all of Shay¿s school years. Shay left the first chance she had, getting herself a scholarship, and as far away from her mother as possible. However, all the negative baggage that Shay left home with continued to haunt her throughout her college years. As she shied away from any kind a relationship, she had no support network, and that finally took it toll on her and she could not finish her thesis to graduate. Her advisor recommended that she take a semester or two off and gather her strength. Unfortunately, Shay had no place to go but home, which she did reluctantly because she was still packing all the baggage of her lost childhood. However, Nona on the other hand, had found sobriety four years earlier, and another daughter, Sunshine, who she was just beginning to raise.The story of Nona and Shay coming to terms about their earlier life is full of pain, blame, and a dawning of the damage that could not be forgotten but had to be forgiven for both of them to move on. The question is really can that happen. No spoilers. I hope you will rush out and get a copy of the book. Record the movie and save until you finish the book. I promise you will not be sorry.
kulikuli on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I kind of liked this book. Actually, I liked more about it than I disliked. The story is about Shay Dixon, a burnt out grad student who goes to stay with her recovering alcoholic mother for a break. She goes because Nina Simone (a dead jazz singer) tells her to. I didn't really connect with the Nina Simone thing. However, I really liked the mother-daughter story that's at the core of the novel. Their relationship and Shay's healing and evolution kept me reading. I didn't like the end. It felt loose and unfinished but not in a "literary" on purpose kind of way. The ending also felt untrue to me. I didn't understand Shay's decisions in the end. I'm not saying they were the wrong decisions. They just didn't fit for me. This sounds like a bad review but it's not. I did enjoy most of the story and I would recommend this books to friends. Lifetime is coming out with a movie based on the book. Hopefully they don't butcher it too badly.
notoriousspinks on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Relationships whether good, bad or ugly, we all have them. These relationships, especially those with close friends and family shape our entire existence. The most unique relationship is the mother-daughter bond, even if that bond is broken; it still exists. In Orange Mint & Honey, author Carleen Brice takes us on an emotional roller coaster ride in the lives of Shay Dixon and her mother Nona. Although 25 years in age, Shay's soul personifies a character much older. While experiencing her mid-life crisis, Shay is advised to take a break from graduate school by her advisor. Later Shay would receive a visit from her banshee (spirit) Nina Simone and be advised to return home to her mother, a recovering alcoholic whom she had not spoken to in seven years.A tale of love, hate, forgiveness, truth, and a large dose of heart-wrenching reality, Brice uses Orange Mint and Honey as an avenue to touch on very sensitive and sometimes taboo subjects, but with such eloquence and skill. While reading this novel I continuously found myself overwhelmed with emotion. At times I laughed, sometimes I cried and other times I had to put the book down and just think. Brice allowed me to use the character of Shay Dixon to deal with some of my own daughter-mother issues. Like Shay they are issues that started for me as a young girl and now in adulthood these same issues continue to affect me via the choices I make on a daily basis. However, I received a dose of hope that all relationships are mendable if we are willing to meet people where they are and if we receive what they have to give us as opposed to demanding what we want or what we think we deserve. Like Shay eventually did, I had to take into account that my mom has her own growing pains that she has to deal with on her terms and I must allow her to do that on her time, but not at the expense of my feelings. This book is a must read and an eye-opener for anyone that is affected by or intrigued by the mother-daughter bond and the strengths and weaknesses that lie within it. In spite of the struggles, these women, Nona and Shay were determined to make it through allowing the reader to understand the sensitive yet strong bond that women possess. "Ain't I a woman?"**Be sure to tune in Sunday, February 21, 2010 to Lifetime Movie Network to catch the premiere of "Sins of the Mother." This movie is based on Brice's novel Orange Mint & Honey and stars Grammy Award winning singer/actress Jill Scott. ****Check out the Carleen Brice interview by BrownGirl by clicking here.
bohemiangirl35 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Shay Dixon is a burnt out grad student at the University of Iowa. Her advisor has convinced her to take a semester off to get some rest and get her head together. Shay has worked and gone to school to the exclusion of the rest of her life for so long that she doesn't know where to go or what to do. Nina Simone appears to Shay and tells her to go home to her mother. Shay doesn't like or respect her mother. But with nowhere else to go, she heads back to Denver. Nona was a serious alcoholic for all of Shay's life. Shay raised herself while Nona partied, leaving her school-aged daughter home alone for a week at a time. The last time Shay saw Nona was four years ago when Nona began AA and was following the steps, apologizing to the people she had hurt. Nona had been pregnant at the time.Shay moves in with her mother and 3-year-old sister Sunny. Despite evidence that Nona has changed - healthy food, positive quotes, a garden, prayer - Shay is determined to hold on to her anger. Shay is a very immature 25-year-old, especially for someone who raised herself. But the way she holds on to her anger and blames Nona for her situation is believable. She made a lot of bad decisions and pissed me off, but her character was realistic. I didn't feel a whole lot towards Nona. I thought the book was going to end up implying that the love of a good man could save a woman, and I was ready to roll my eyes. But Brice didn't go there. Nona and Shay's relationship developed in a realistic way and Shay did start to make her own decisions.The recipes at the back of the book were a nice touch, and I loved the idea of the God box, planting your prayers in your garden.
IandSsmom on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Loved this book!! I adore the idea for God Box- planting your prayers in your garden!! Just love it! This was a great mother/daughter story! It just had so much emotion and characters you just fell in love with! A wonderful ending it was just great beginning to end and I can't wait for Carleen Brice's next book!!
LisaKenney on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Shay Dixon has run fast and far from her alcoholic, irresponsible mother and has worked hard to establish herself through higher education and a level of respectability that her mother never had. She's a classic over-achiever, and when grad school burn out leaves her no choice but to go home and face her past, she finds a very different Nona and in the process, she discovers a very different picture of herself. Anger, resentment, addiction, recovery and forgiveness are all themes that weave through this skillfully told story of facing the past, dealing with the present and having the courage to step into the future. In this terrific debut, Carleen Brice uses her deft, fresh voice to introduce us to richly textured and interesting characters. I can't wait to read more from this very talented author.
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Glade it was made into a movie. Books are always better. Thought provoking and exceptional. Definite recommended reading.
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