Review: Bounce House melancholic reflection on childhood and motherhood

Short, sweet and heartbreakingly poignant, Bounce House by UBC alumni Jennica Harper is her fourth book of poems.

Reading Bounce House was like re-discovering a favourite childhood playground: it is an overwhelmingly nostalgic yet reflexive process of discovery, but ultimately you feel as if you don’t belong. Harper writes about her search for her place of belonging as she navigates the space between being a new mother and also becoming recently motherless.

Like standing next to a plastic structure that used to tower over you, but now barely reaches the crown of your head, Harper weaves together the sadness of losing the innocence and joy of youth with the inexplicable discomfort of being an adult, uneasy in her newly grown body. Harper lives with seeing her own childhood reflected in her daughter, D., while continuing her journey of self-acceptance and self-discovery away from youth. She sees old insecurities in her daughter, too young to realize that “honey-pot tummies” will be unwanted later in life.

Harper writes strictly in four couplets per page. To me, this rigid structuring of her words is an attempt on constraining her emotions, both joy at her child and an all-encompassing sadness at the loss of her mother. Though her words are bounded, Harper’s skill as a writer allows the emotions to spill forth and take a life of their own.

Just as grief takes place with no preamble or warning, Harper’s writing takes you by surprise as she leaps from a poem on a new mother’s joy, “D. asks me what her wrinkly belly button is,” to one on her own mother’s death, “Mom’s bones in a blanket.” She muses on the randomness of death and her anxieties on protecting D., questioning whether she “trusts herself” to “catch the kid landing.” The striking duality only serves to heighten the emotional journey Harper takes the reader on.

The poems are interspersed with whimsical illustrations: a bowl of butterfly wings, a ball of yarn, a bicycle wheel. The process of discovery continues as I slowly notice that all the doodles are round. It isn’t until the final poem that it dawns on me, Harper has brought the reader back full circle. She plays with the imagery of a wheel or a loop to show the never ending cycle of birth, death and motherhood. While I am not a new mother and am blessed with a healthy relationship with my mom, Bounce House both gave me a new appreciation for maternal relations but also made me slightly apprehensive of having my own children. I’m not sure if I want to be faced with the self-reckoning that motherhood brought Harper.

I’d recommend this book for those looking for a brief diversion from their mundane school readings. It’s short and easy to consume but does force the reader to grapple with some tough emotions. Perhaps if you’re looking for a form of procrastination that will motivate you to finally call your mom, this is the book for you.