My Brother's Keeper

My Brother's Keeper

4.5 23
by ReShonda Tate Billingsley

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In a captivating debut novel that is both humorous and heartwrenching, ReShonda Tate Billingsley — winner of the Gold Pen Award for Best New Author — spins an irresistible story that will touch every reader's heart.
Aja James hasn't had it easy. She has kept a close watch over her siblings ever since tragedy robbed them of their parents. Tired of

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In a captivating debut novel that is both humorous and heartwrenching, ReShonda Tate Billingsley — winner of the Gold Pen Award for Best New Author — spins an irresistible story that will touch every reader's heart.
Aja James hasn't had it easy. She has kept a close watch over her siblings ever since tragedy robbed them of their parents. Tired of carrying the weight of the world on her shoulders, Aja is ready for a change. Her best friend, Roxie, knows just what to do — she sets Aja up on a date with one of the most sought after bachelors in town, handsome sportscaster Charles Clayton. Charles is everything Aja has ever dreamed of — sensitive, sexy, and charming. But "happily ever after" isn't that simple.
While Aja has rebounded from the loss of her parents, her sister and brother have not. Jada is lost in a world of silence with no way for Aja to reach her, and Eric's uncontrollable rage is wreaking havoc on his life. As Aja sees her brother heading down the same violent path that destroyed their family, she makes it her business to stop the cycle — even if it means putting her own life, and her own chance at love, on hold.
My Brother's Keeper is a poignant novel about a resilient family learning that sometimes you have to forgive in order to find the strength to move on.

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Gallery Books
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5.31(w) x 8.25(h) x 0.80(d)

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Chapter One

Twelve years later

"If you could change one thing about your life, what would it be?" Aja read the question in Cosmo magazine out loud as she sat waiting for her sister.

"Well, that's easy," she answered. "I'd take the gun from my daddy and shoot him instead. Maybe my life would've turned out a whole lot different." Aja didn't realize she was talking to herself. The puzzled look from the elderly lady passing by made her snap out of her vengeful thoughts. She managed a slight smile at the woman as she imagined how she looked, sitting there talking to herself. Probably like I belong here.

Aja closed the magazine and glanced around the lobby of Memorial Greens. She hated coming to this place. It was heartbreaking to watch the people wander aimlessly about, some muttering to themselves, some in their own world, and others with no idea who they were or why they were even here.

If only I could get Jada out of here. If only things could be different.

But they couldn't. Aja had come to terms with that fact years ago. It had been six years since her sister was committed, and Aja knew it was for the best.

"Good morning, Miss Ah-jah. Your sister will be out shortly." Aja hated the commanding, bullish tone of Jada's primary nurse, Mrs. Overton. The fifty-nine-year-old, 220-pound woman looked like a prison warden. Her beady eyes seemed buried in her head and her thick, bushy eyebrows met just above the bridge of her nose, forming a V. She wore her long, stringy gray hair tied back in a bun. Her nostrils were permanently flared.

"It's A-ja, like the country, Asia, with a J." Why must they go through this every time? It's like that woman was doing this on purpose. The nurse shot a fake smile before spinning around to go back to her station.

Aja sat near the window that overlooked the large courtyard, where she and Jada had spent many evenings. They both loved the shade the sycamore tree provided from the hot summer sun. With the high humidity, it could get unbearable sometimes. But for the most part, it was always extremely soothing to sit outside.

Even though Jada seemed to be improving, it hurt Aja's heart to see her sister here. After their mother died, their father was sent to prison and Aja and her siblings were shipped off to different relatives. Aja stayed in Houston and finished high school, living with her father's sister. Jada was sent to Alabama to live with another aunt and Eric was sent to Chicago with an uncle. Their mother was an only child, so Aja, Eric, and Jada had to grow up with their father's family, which wasn't easy because all of his relatives thought he should be forgiven. And for Aja, that simply wasn't happening.

At first, everyone thought Jada was simply traumatized. After the shooting, she barely talked for months. At their mother's funeral, she sat emotionless and didn't shed a tear or say a word. It was a silence that had stayed with her, even through her horrible nightmares when the only sounds she made were screams in the middle of the night. She was withdrawn at school, speaking only when absolutely necessary. They even placed her in a special school after she refused to do her work. After a year, relatives started suggesting to Aunt Millicent that Jada get help.

"That child don't need to see no head doctor," Aunt Millicent would always say. "Ain't nothing wrong with her that time can't heal."

But time didn't heal her. In fact, as more time passed, the more Jada withdrew. Eventually, she just stopped talking altogether. When she tried to slit her wrists at the age of twelve, Aunt Millicent knew there was no other choice.

Luckily, Aja managed to convince her aunt to let Jada come back to Houston, where the mental health facilities were among the best in the world — not to mention that Aja could be close to her sister. In actuality, Aja thought Aunt Millicent was relieved. She didn't know how to handle Jada. Plus, she had already raised eight children and wasn't too happy about having to take Jada in the first place.

"You have exactly two hours." Nurse Overton's deep voice jolted Aja out of her thoughts. The nurse was gone before Aja could even say thanks.

Aja saw her sister, Jada, standing in the entrance of the hospital lobby. She looked like an angel in the white sundress Aja had recently bought her for her eighteenth birthday. Jada's long, golden brown hair was pulled back and tied with a matching white ribbon. Her caramel complexion was free of the acne that had plagued her early teen years. Had it not been for her eyes, Jada would have looked like a normal, pretty teenager blossoming into a woman. But her eyes revealed the real story — they were sunken and dark, like they were being swallowed by her face. The light that was there as a child had burned out long ago.

"Hi there." Aja walked over to hug and kiss her sister on the cheek. "You look great. Let's go to our favorite spot."

Aja took Jada's hand and the two of them walked outside to the bench under the tree. It was the same thing every Saturday afternoon — Aja seldom missed a week. Coming here was important to her and she felt to Jada as well. During their visits, Aja would recount her week, all the while trying to remain upbeat and as if nothing was wrong. Today, as usual, Jada said nothing and Aja continued talking. She knew she was rambling but she knew that sooner or later her weekly conversations would get through to her sister, so she never let up.

"...and Mrs. Atkins, you remember her — she used to live across the street. She up and got married. Seventy-nine years old and she gets married to a fifty-six-year-old man. I can't buy a date and here she is getting married." Aja laughed. While she tried to joke about being dateless, it did bother her. She wanted a family of her own one day, but at the rate she was going, it would never happen.

Aja continued talking, stroking Jada's thick hair as she made conversation. People always used to tell them they had "good hair" because it was long and wavy — something they inherited from their father's Indian ancestors. Her great-grandmother was Cherokee, and although she never met her, Aja was sure that's where her butterscotch color and reddish brown hair came from.

Aja had taken pride in her hair when she was a teenager, until one day her mother got angry because Aja kept telling a friend she had "bad hair" because it was short and kinky. Her mother told her there was no such thing as "good hair" — that was just something society used to unfairly label people. Since then, Aja had worn her hair shoulder length and kept it dyed dark brown.

"Jada, did I tell you I got a cat?" Aja stopped rubbing her sister's hair and they were now face-to-face. "This guy at work gave her to me because he moved someplace they can't have pets. I named her Simba. She's a beautiful, gray-colored calico. I never in a million years thought I would own a cat. I'm a dog person myself. Remember that dog we used to have? The Labrador, Cooter?"

Aja looked at her sister to see if there was some sign that she was taking it all in. There was none. Aja continued her stories, telling Jada about her plans for the weekend and the leak in her kitchen sink. Through each anecdote, Jada sat with a blank stare on her face.

It was difficult for Aja to keep up her enthusiasm. As a child, Jada had been very talkative. She'd constantly gotten on Aja's nerves. Jada's response to everything had been "Why?" Aja smiled as she recalled how absolutely crazy it had driven her. Now what she wouldn't give to hear her sister say that one little word.

After another hour of talking, Aja got up to go. "Well, I hate to run, but I've got to stop by the office and check on some clients." Aja reached into her big DKNY tote bag and pulled out a plastic shopping bag. "But you know I brought you something." She pulled a long, light pink silk dress out of the plastic bag and held it up. "I got it on sale at this boutique when I went to New York last week. I'm so glad they let you wear your own clothes here. I know how you like to look pretty."

Jada slowly reached up to touch the dress. She gently ran her hand over the fabric. For a moment, Aja thought she saw a twinkle in her sister's eyes, but it passed so quickly, Aja wasn't sure if she had imagined the whole thing.

"Yeah, see how nice and soft it is. That's what sold me on it. I bet it'll feel good on you. Will you wear it for me next Saturday?"

Please God, let her say something. Jada just kept gently rubbing the dress.

"Okay, then," Aja said, trying not to let her disappointment show. "We'd better go. Nurse Overton will be calling out the dogs in a minute."

Aja put the dress back in the plastic bag and helped her sister up. Together they walked back up the path to Memorial Greens.

As Aja waved good-bye she yelled, "Next time, I'll bring Eric."

She knew that was a long shot. The last time he'd come, Jada had sat in a trance and Eric had left in tears. That was more than a year ago. He hadn't been back, saying he couldn't stand it. Aja had been working to convince him to come again, but he had problems of his own. Problems that were another story entirely.

Copyright © 2003 by ReShonda Tate Billingsley

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Meet the Author

ReShonda Tate Billingsley’s #1 national bestselling novels include Let the Church Say Amen, I Know I’ve Been Changed, and Say Amen, Again, winner of the NAACP Image Award for Outstanding Literary Work. Her collaboration with Victoria Christopher Murray has produced three hit novels, Sinners & Saints, Friends & Foes, and Fortune & Fame. Visit, meet the author on Facebook at ReShondaTateBillingsley, or follow her on Twitter @Reshondat.

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My Brother's Keeper 4.6 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 23 reviews.
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Guest More than 1 year ago
A great book ! The details that were offered in this book were very descriptive. The emotional pain Jada,Aja and Eric experienced due to their father were very easy to relate to. At the end, in order to be happy, I understand the meaning of forgiving but not forgetting. A good book and it was also special since Jada started talking in complete sentences due to seeing her dad.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This book is very touching and makes me think alot about my life. She had a hard time forgiving her father. so what! can you blame her? he took the life of someone it claimed to love. She's a very good one because if it was me I wouldn't never forgave him. I can't even forgive my father for leaving us with not even so much as a good bye or 'yall know i love yall.' The book is worth more that five stars, and I recommend it to everybody, try it out you won't put it down.. I read everywhere I went. Bath tub, and to school. I stayed to 3:00a.m. just to finish it off (on a school night) and got right up at 6:00 and sleep in study hall. Your a great author and inspires me.
Guest More than 1 year ago
A very heart touching book and a wonderful plot!! I can't wait to read more of your sucessful stories!!!!!!! I Love You Cousin!!! Keep up the good work!!!
Guest More than 1 year ago
I read this book in just one (1) day; it was both entertaining and 'real.' in the beginning of the book, the author makes note that the story is fictional and not intended to resemble anyone's reality; however, it resembled mine closely. my dear cousin departed this world similiar to one of the story's character. though sad, it was moving, and an excellent read. i recommend this book to all with whom i have contact. i can't wait for mrs. billingsley next novel. go 'head, sister!
Guest More than 1 year ago
I loved this book ! i read it in 2 days..i couldnt put it has a great plot and a great will make you laugh and cry..*
Guest More than 1 year ago
If you're looking for a great book to read, this is it! This book was SOOOOO GOOOOD!!!! It will make you laugh, cry and just drop your jaw from the twists and turns. The publisher should put me on the payroll because I'm going to tell everyone I know about this book!!!
Guest More than 1 year ago
this book was so good, the best ever especially for her debut. i reccommend it to everyone
Guest More than 1 year ago
This was a great read. I enjoyed how the author was able to weave a story to help you see both sides of the abuser. This book touched on every emotion and was one I will definitely spread the word about.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This was a fantastic book. It was an easy read, with characters that touched my heart. It was everything-funny, romantic, sad, thought-provoking. I truly enjoyed it and highly recomment it!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Guest More than 1 year ago
ReShonda Tate Billingsley breaks in the literary scene with her first novel, My Brother¿s Keeper. The book focuses on the lives of Aja, Eric, and Jada James. Tragedy separates them from their parents at a young age and the effects of that tragedy mold their lives. Aja being the oldest of the three appoints herself as their `keeper,¿ always putting their needs ahead of her own. Aja has created a good llife for herself as the Assistant Director of a social service agency for at-risk teens. Eric is a talented college basketball player with the prospect of making it in the NBA. Jada, well Jada is the same little girl she was the day of the tragedy. Aja¿s best friend Roxie introduces her to the charming and handsome sportscaster r Charles Clayton. Will Aja allow the baggage from her life and lives of her siblings to interfere with having a relationship with Charles? How will Aja¿s behavior affect Charles? Will Eric escape the guilt of that tragic day, and be the man his girlfriend Elise needs him to be? What will become of Jada? Billingsley has weaved a heartfelt tale about the bonds of love between siblings. The story was a definite page-turner filled with humor, drama, lies, loss, tears, forgiveness, friendship and love. I highly recommend this read and anxiously await the next book by this talented author. Readincolor Reviewers Vanessa A. Johnson
Guest More than 1 year ago
My best friend from Texas came to visit me. she brought this book with her. I started to read and couldn't stop it's like watching a movie til the end.
Guest More than 1 year ago
While I commend the book for keeping my interest, only because I had nothing else to read at that time, I had to subtract three stars for plot, repetitiveness, and cookie cutter characters. Despite careing for them in the beginning I didn¿t bother weather they all stayed together in harmony or destroyed each other in the end. The whole book spirals downward after the fifth or tenth chapter. The plot felt so contrived that reading the thing became a chore and soon you begin to realize the annoying repetitiveness! While nothing in literature is original nowadays, reading the book was like a guessing game you always get right and it felt like reading a novelized movie. Yes there was conflict building up here and there but you knew what was going to be the outcome of it before it happened with the help of foreshadowing. You had your mix of humor, seriousness, romance, and tension. I have no problem mixing in genres to move the story along or for fun but the humor and the rotation of generas began to grow tiresome and old. Speaking of disliking, do not get me started on the love `conflict¿ of Aja and Charles Clayton. Ugh, the guy reeked of every character Taye Diggs played to the point of cheesiness. Charles was the white knight who picked up the ditzy Aja and automatically they hit it off but Aja tries, and tries, and tries again to screw it up. It¿s like watching the roles reverse in the Simpson¿s or Family Guy. Except it¿s hardly funny, amusing, or interesting at all. Not to mention the whole thing felt artificial.It was the precursor of Nick and Jessica Simpson I kid you not. There were a few things I liked about My Brother¿s Keeper. The witty humor, not the overzealous blaxploitation-esq humor, is good. Eric was nicely written, his side of the story was a nice relaxation from the silly antics of Aja and the rest. Elise and Jada were also good characters too and supprisingly Charles Mother was one minor character I thought was viciously funny. Even funnier than Roxie. But these characters couldn¿t save the book in time. However, I heard a rumor that a movie was going to be developed based on this book. (Gee I didn¿t see THAT one coming.) And while I know it will probably do good on the box office I know once the DVD comes out I¿m going to rent it, gather a few friends, and we¿re going to see how this movie plays as a drinking game. Two sips whenever Aja says, ¿Eric, you need therapy.¿