What Looks like Crazy on an Ordinary Day

( 93 )

Overview

After a decade of elegant pleasures and luxe living with the Atlanta brothers and sisters with the best clothes and biggest dreams, Ava Johnson has temporarily returned home to Idlewild—her fabulous career and power plans smashed to bits by cold reality. But what she imagines to be the end is, instead, a beginning. Because, in the ten-plus years since Ava left, all the problems of the big city have come to roost in the sleepy North Michigan community whose ordinariness once drove her away; and she cannot turn her...

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Overview

After a decade of elegant pleasures and luxe living with the Atlanta brothers and sisters with the best clothes and biggest dreams, Ava Johnson has temporarily returned home to Idlewild—her fabulous career and power plans smashed to bits by cold reality. But what she imagines to be the end is, instead, a beginning. Because, in the ten-plus years since Ava left, all the problems of the big city have come to roost in the sleepy North Michigan community whose ordinariness once drove her away; and she cannot turn her back on friends and family who sorely need her in the face of impending trouble and tragedy. Besides which, that one unthinkable, unmistakable thing is now happening to her: Ava Johnson is falling in love.

Acclaimed playwright, essayist, New York Times bestselling author, and columnist Pearl Cleage has created a world rich in character, human drama, and deep, compassionate understanding, in a remarkable novel that sizzles with sensuality, hums with gritty truth, and sings and crackles with life-affirming energy.

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Editorial Reviews

Kirkus Reviews
It takes talent to make a love story between an AIDS victim and a convicted murderer work, but playwright/essayist Cleage (Deals with the Devil) more than meets the challenge in this gutsy, very likable fiction debut.

As a teenager, Ava Johnson couldn't wait to move away from tiny Idlewild, Michigan, a lakefront village originally conceived—and enjoyed for decades—as a resort town for people of color. Now just a half-abandoned dot on the map like any other (except that still, most of its residents are black), Idlewild offers the only safe haven when Ava, now nearly 30, learns she's contracted the HIV virus and is forced to close down her hair salon in Atlanta. Telling herself she's just visiting her older sister, Joyce, for a few weeks before she moves on to San Francisco, sophisticated Ava (whose voice is always feisty and humorous, even when the subject is death) is nevertheless impressed by bighearted Joyce's efforts to help the teenaged girls in her small community. She's also intrigued by handsome, sexily 'together' Eddie Jefferson, a once-wild childhood acquaintance who's returned to Idlewild to raise vegetables, grow dreadlocks, and practice t'ai chi. While giving support to Joyce as she fights her conservative church for the right to teach parenting to adolescents, and assisting (a bit skeptically) when Joyce takes in an addict's abandoned baby, Ava finds herself falling hard for sensitive, nurturing Eddie. Obviously, he's interested, too—but won't he run once he learns she's carrying the virus? Ava hardly dares hope for a final chance at love, even when Eddie reveals his own terrible—and, finally, forgivable—past. Lively, topical, and fantasy-filled. Watch out, Terry McMillan. Cleage is on your tail.

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780061710384
  • Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
  • Publication date: 1/27/2009
  • Series: Oprah's Book Club Series
  • Edition description: Reprint
  • Pages: 256
  • Sales rank: 125,698
  • Product dimensions: 5.50 (w) x 8.04 (h) x 0.62 (d)

Meet the Author

Pearl Cleage

Pearl Cleage is the author of Mad at Miles: A Black Woman's Guide to Truth and Deals with the Devil and Other Reasons to Riot. An accomplished Playwright, she teaches playwriting at Spelman College, is a cofounder of the literary magazine Catalyst and writes a column for the Atlanta Tribune. Ms. Cleage lives in Atlanta with her husband. What Looks Like Crazy on an Ordinary Day...is her first novel.

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Read an Excerpt

Chapter One

I'm sitting at the bar in the airport, minding my own business, trying to get psyched up for my flight, and I made the mistake of listening to one of those TV talk shows. They were interviewing some women with what the host kept calling full blown AIDS. As opposed to half-blown AIDS, I guess. There they were, weeping and wailing and wringing their hands, wearing their prissy little Laura Ashley dresses and telling their edited-for-TV life stories.

The audience was eating it up, but it got on my last nerve. The thing is, half these women are lying. More than half. They get diagnosed and all of a sudden they're Mother Teresa. I can't be positive! It's impossible! I_m practically a Virgin! Bull.... They got it just like I got it f...... men.

That's not male bashing either. That's the truth. Most of us got it from the boys. Which is, when you think about it, a pretty good argument for cutting men loose, but if I could work up a strong physical reaction to women, I would already be having sex with them. I'm not knocking it. I'm just saying I can't be a witness. Too many breasts in one place to suit me.

I try to tune out the almost-a-virgins, but they're going on and on and now one is really sobbing and all of a sudden I get it. They're just going through the purification ritual. This is how it goes: First, you have to confess that you did nasty, disgusting sex stuff with multiple partners who may even have been of your same gender. Or you have to confess that you like to shoot illegal drugs into your veins and sometimes you use other people's works when you want to get high and you came unprepared. Then you have to describe the sin you haveconfessed in as much detail as you can remember. Names, dates, places, faces. Specific sexual acts. Quantity and quality of orgasms. What kind of dope you shot. What park you bought it in. All the down and dirty. Then, once your listeners have been totally freaked out by what you've told them, they get to decide how much sympathy, attention help, money, and understanding you're entitled to based on how disgusted they are.

I'm not buying into that. I don't think anything I did was bad enough for me to earn this as the payback, but it gets rough out here sometimes. If you're not a little kid, or a heterosexual movie star's doomed but devoted wife, or a hemophiliac who got it from a tainted transfusion, or a straight white woman who can prove she's a virgin with a dirty dentist, you're not eligible for any no-strings sympathy.

The truth is, people are usually relieved. It always makes them feel better when they know the specifics of your story. You can see their faces brighten up when your path is one they haven't traveled. That's why people keep asking me if I know who I got it from. Like all they'd have to do to ensure their safety is cross this specific guy's name off their list of acceptable sexual partners the same way you do when somebody starts smoking crack no future here. But I always tell them the truth I have no idea. That's when they frown and give me one last chance to redeem myself. If I don't know who, do I at least know how many?

By that time I can't decide if I'm supposed to be sorry about having had a lot of sex or sorry I got sick from it. And what difference does it make at this point anyway? It's like lying about how much you loved the rush of the nicotine just because now you have lung cancer.

I'm babbling. I must be higher than I thought. Good. I hate to fly. I used to dread it so much I'd have to be falling down drunk to get on a plane. For years I started every vacation with a hangover. That's actually how I started drinking vodka, trying to get up the nerve to go to Jamaica for a reggae festival. Worked like a charm, too, and worth a little headache the first day out and the first day back.

I know I drink too much, but I'm trying to cut back. When I first got diagnosed, I stayed drunk for about three months until I realized it was going to be a lot harder to drink myself to death then it might be to wait it out and see what happens. Some people live a long time with HIV. Maybe I'll be one of those, grinning like a maniac on the front of Parade magazine, talking about how I did it.

I never used to read those survivor testimonials, but now I do, for obvious reasons. The first thing they all say they had to do was learn how to calm down, which is exactly why I was drinking so much, trying to cool out. The problem was, after a while I couldn't tell if it was the vodka or the HIV making me sick, and I wanted to know the difference.

But I figure a little lightweight backsliding at thirty thousand feet doesn't really count, so by the time we boarded, I had polished of two doubles and was waiting for the flight attendant to smile that first-class-only smile and bring me two more. That's why I pay all that extra money to sit up here, so they'll bring me what I want before I have to ring the bell and ask for it.

The man sitting next to me is wearing a beautiful suit that cost him a couple of grand easy and he's spread out calculators, calendars, and legal pads across his tray table like the plane is now his personal office in the air. I think all that is for show. I don't believe anybody can really concentrate on business when they're hurtling through the air at six hundred miles an hour. Besides, ain't nobody that damn busy.

He was surprised as hell when I sat down next to him White men in expensive suits are always a little pissed to find themselves seated next to me in first class, especially since I started wearing my hair so short. They seem to take it as some kind of personal affront that of all the seats on the airplane, the bald headed black woman showed up next to them. It used to make me uncomfortable. Now I think of it as helping them take a small step toward higher consciousness. Discomfort is always a necessary part of the process of enlightenment.

For the first time in a long time, I didn't grip and pray during takeoff. It wasn't that I was drunk. I've been a lot drunker on a lot of other airplanes. It's just that at this point, a plane crash might be just what the doctor ordered.

Copyright ) 1997 by Pearl Cleage

What Looks Like Crazy On An Ordinary Day. Copyright © by Pearl Cleage. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.
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First Chapter

Chapter One

I’m sitting at the bar in the airport, minding my own business, trying to get psyched up for my flight, and I made the mistake of listening to one of those TV talk shows. They were interviewing some women with what the host kept calling full blown AIDS. As opposed to half-blown AIDS, I guess. There they were, weeping and wailing and wringing their hands, wearing their prissy little Laura Ashley dresses and telling their edited-for-TV life stories.

The audience was eating it up, but it got on my last nerve. The thing is, half these women are lying. More than half. They get diagnosed and all of a sudden they're Mother Teresa. I can't be positive! It's impossible! I’m practically a virgin! Bull.... They got it just like I got it f...... men.

That's not male bashing either. That's the truth. Most of us got it from the boys. Which is, when you think about it, a pretty good argument for cutting men loose, but if I could work up a strong physical reaction to women, I would already be having sex with them. I'm not knocking it. I'm just saying I can't be a witness. Too many breasts in one place to suit me.

I try to tune out the almost-a-virgins, but they're going on and on and now one is really sobbing and all of a sudden I get it. They're just going through the purification ritual. This is how it goes: First, you have to confess that you did nasty, disgusting sex stuff with multiple partners who may even have been of your same gender. Or you have to confess that you like to shoot illegal drugs into your veins and sometimes you use other people's works when you want to get high and you came unprepared. Then you have to describe the sin you have confessed in as much detail as you can remember. Names, dates, places, faces. Specific sexual acts. Quantity and quality of orgasms. What kind of dope you shot. What park you bought it in. All the down and dirty. Then, once your listeners have been totally freaked out by what you've told them, they get to decide how much sympathy, attention help, money, and understanding you're entitled to based on how disgusted they are.

I'm not buying into that. I don't think anything I did was bad enough for me to earn this as the payback, but it gets rough out here sometimes. If you're not a little kid, or a heterosexual movie star's doomed but devoted wife, or a hemophiliac who got it from a tainted transfusion, or a straight white woman who can prove she's a virgin with a dirty dentist, you're not eligible for any no-strings sympathy.

The truth is, people are usually relieved. It always makes them feel better when they know the specifics of your story. You can see their faces brighten up when your path is one they haven't traveled. That's why people keep asking me if I know who I got it from. Like all they'd have to do to ensure their safety is cross this specific guy's name off their list of acceptable sexual partners the same way you do when somebody starts smoking crack, no future here. But I always tell them the truth; I have no idea. That's when they frown and give me one last chance to redeem myself. If I don't know who, do I at least know how many?

By that time I can't decide if I'm supposed to be sorry about having had a lot of sex or sorry I got sick from it. And what difference does it make at this point anyway? It's like lying about how much you loved the rush of the nicotine just because now you have lung cancer.

I'm babbling. I must be higher than I thought. Good. I hate to fly. I used to dread it so much I'd have to be falling down drunk to get on a plane. For years I started every vacation with a hangover. That's actually how I started drinking vodka, trying to get up the nerve to go to Jamaica for a reggae festival. Worked like a charm, too, and worth a little headache the first day out and the first day back.

I know I drink too much, but I'm trying to cut back. When I first got diagnosed, I stayed drunk for about three months until I realized it was going to be a lot harder to drink myself to death then it might be to wait it out and see what happens. Some people live a long time with HIV. Maybe I'll be one of those, grinning like a maniac on the front of Parade magazine, talking about how I did it.

I never used to read those survivor testimonials, but now I do, for obvious reasons. The first thing they all say they had to do was learn how to calm down, which is exactly why I was drinking so much, trying to cool out. The problem was, after a while I couldn't tell if it was the vodka or the HIV making me sick, and I wanted to know the difference.

But I figure a little lightweight backsliding at thirty thousand feet doesn't really count, so by the time we boarded, I had polished of two doubles and was waiting for the flight attendant to smile that first-class-only smile and bring me two more. That's why I pay all that extra money to sit up here, so they'll bring me what I want before I have to ring the bell and ask for it.

The man sitting next to me is wearing a beautiful suit that cost him a couple of grand easy and he's spread out calculators, calendars, and legal pads across his tray table like the plane is now his personal office in the air. I think all that is for show. I don't believe anybody can really concentrate on business when they're hurtling through the air at six hundred miles an hour. Besides, ain't nobody that damn busy.

He was surprised as hell when I sat down next to him. White men in expensive suits are always a little pissed to find themselves seated next to me in first class, especially since I started wearing my hair so short. They seem to take it as some kind of personal affront that of all the seats on the airplane, the bald headed black woman showed up next to them. It used to make me uncomfortable. Now I think of it as helping them take a small step toward higher consciousness. Discomfort is always a necessary part of the process of enlightenment.

For the first time in a long time, I didn't grip and pray during takeoff. It wasn't that I was drunk. I've been a lot drunker on a lot of other airplanes. It's just that at this point, a plane crash might be just what the doctor ordered.

Copyright © 1997 by Pearl Cleage

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Reading Group Guide

IntroductionAfter a decade of living it up in Atlanta, getting it on with lots of men, ending up with HIV and a whopping case of remorse, Ava Johnson has decided there's at least one thing left worth doing, and doing well-telling the truth. So does Pearl Cleage in her award-winning first novel which puts a witty, wise spin on contemporary women's issues, hard choices, harder good-byes, and brave new beginnings.

Ava Johnson is returning home to Idlewild, Michigan on her way to someplace better, like San Francisco. Her overt reason for the trip is to spend some bonding time with her sister Joyce. In the bad luck department, Joyce has been given her share of no refund, no return items. But if Ava is thinking gloom and doom on her arrival, she has another think coming...when Joyce sends wild Eddie Jefferson, a handsome Rastafarian brother with a head full of beautiful dreadlocks, to pick her up at the airport. And what is waiting in Idlewild is a small town filled with big-city problems, a life-lesson in becoming a "free woman," and an unexpected miracle called love.

Discussion Questions
  • Both Ava and Joyce are at crisis points in their lives. Compare the two women. How does each cope with her heartaches? What works...and what doesn't.
  • Ava and Joyce aren't the only women facing tough challenges in this novel. Joyce says of the girls in the Sewing Circus, "These girls haven't got a chance. There aren't jobs and there aren't going to be any. They're stuck up here in the middle of the damn woods, watching talk shows, smoking crack, collecting welfare, and having babies. What kind of life is that?" (p. 39) Ava's answer is "City life." Do you agreethat the same problems confront urban and rural young women? What do you think are the greatest ones? Whose responsibility is it to help young people overcome them?
  • In the chapter called "August," Joyce makes up a list of "Ten Things Every Free Woman Should Know." First define "free woman" -- then make up your own list.
  • The church in this novel shows both its sides: the good it can do; the harm it can do. How do you feel about the church's handling of the Reverend's sexual abuse? What do you feel should be the response of a church organization-whether a black church or the Roman Catholic Church-to this problem?
  • At the center of this novel, however, is the tragedy of HIV. Discuss the community's reaction to Ava. Then discuss her own response to a new relationship. How would you interpret her dream in Chapter 18...and the very last line of the book? About the Author: "The purpose of my writing, often, is to express the point where racism and sexism meet." An accomplished playwright, journalist, poet, and novelist, Pearl Cleage probes issues of race, sex, and love in a growing body of literary work while she reveals poignant truths about brave black women.
Born on December 7, 1948 in Springfield, Massachusetts, Pearl Michelle Cleage grew up in Detroit, Michigan. Her father was a prominent minister who ran for governor of Michigan in 1962 on the Freedom Ticket; her mother was an elementary school teacher.

Since the early 1980s, Cleage has drawn national attention with her dramatic works, which include Flyin' West, an extraordinary play about pioneer black women at the turn of the century, and Blues for an Alabama Sky. Her first novel What Looks Like Crazy on an Ordinary Day, was an Oprah's Book Club selection, a New York Times bestseller, and a BCALA Literary Award winner. She is also the author of I Wish I Had a Red Dress, Mad at Miles, and Deals with the Devil. A contributing editor to Essence magazine, Pearl Cleage frequently performs her work on college campuses. She lives in Atlanta with her husband, Zaron W. Burnett, Jr.

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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4.5
( 93 )
Rating Distribution

5 Star

(46)

4 Star

(34)

3 Star

(8)

2 Star

(2)

1 Star

(3)

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See All Sort by: Showing 1 – 20 of 93 Customer Reviews
  • Posted March 4, 2011

    Slow start....then it gets moving and doesn't stop!

    At first I was not attached to the story. The first few pages give the illusion that it will be fiesty and wild. But then it settles down considersbly. The story then becomes predictable...or so I thought. The slow movement is just enough time to set a great build up. The story then gives a great twist and turn that fits perfectly into the storyline! Not a surprise ending but definitely some good twists and turns. A bit romantic in nature but deals with real life issues as well.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted January 22, 2012

    One of my favorite books

    I read this book when it was first released (not long after it became an Oprah's Book Club selection). I've reread it a couple of times since then, and each time is just as enjoyable as the first. I love this book. The characters are well-developed, and it will make you laugh out loud, as well as feel like shedding a tear or two.
    I definitely recommend this book.

    (I've also read a couple of her other works, and while good, none compare to this debut novel.)

    1 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Posted April 15, 2010

    more from this reviewer

    Great Love Story

    This book was a simple yet heartfelt love story. You identify with the characters right away. The writing style allows you to connect with the characters. They are each going through difficult times yet love brings them all together. This book shows that real love is out there even when we least expect it. I choose this book for my bookclub and it was a hit. There are so many issues that hit right home for a group to discuss. It was very unique to see how we all read the same book and got different interpretations. The only thing I dislike about the book was that sometimes the author didnt develop a scenario she will just hint at it and you are left to assume what happened. This book made an excellent conversation piece. A recommended read for all book lovers.

    1 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted June 25, 2014

    This was a blind reading for me. I had no knowledge or history o

    This was a blind reading for me. I had no knowledge or history of this book. I purchased it on a whim and was surprisingly very satisfied! The characters were engaging and the story was well written. After I got over the initial shock of what the main character, Ava Johnson was faced with, regarding her mortality at such a young age, I was pulled in and hooked until the very end. 

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted October 3, 2012

    Easy read

    Life challeges

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 3, 2012

    Good book!

    Much left unsaid and perfectly written in this book

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted November 14, 2011

    Makes you think twice

    From the first to last page I was moved by the main character's struggles and desire to fight. This book was an emotional journey, in a good way. It proves that all happy endings are not the American dream but can still be just as happy.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Posted October 10, 2011

    Flow was great.

    After reading the reader's reviews i expected much more profanity. Realising that the readers were also Oprah book club members...so this was clearly not a "hood-to-hood" read. Ava sounded like an old college room mate catching you up on her life. I woud hope future books by Clearage would highlight Ava's spiritual maturity and abandon the profanity.

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted July 13, 2009

    Awesome! If your looking for a great book that will hold your attention till the very last word, this is the book...

    This book starts with Ava. She's not gay nor is she on drugs but she is HIV positive...Ava decides to leave Atlanta and start over. She decides to go visit her sister Joyce in Idlewild. Although Ava's intentions are to visit for the summer and then move onto LA, her plans soon change once meeting and falling for Eddie. Eddie is a black man that has had his fair share of challenges in his life however he has not allowed that to sour his outlook on life. Joyce, Ava's sister has also had her share of hardtimes, lossing her children and then her husband..she still has room in her heart to care for others and show them the love they need.

    This book is wonderfully written and although this is a fiction novel, it certainly touches on the Crazy things that happen in our true ordinary lives.

    This is a must read!

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Posted December 13, 2008

    Fantastic Subject Matter - Poor Characters....

    iked that this book tackled a difficult subject and one that is so rarely portrayed - the love life of an HIV positive female. But other than the topic, the story itself was a bit disappointing and one-dimensional. Nevertheless I think it's an important book to read if for no other reason than to start the dialogue.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted February 14, 2007

    Read For Content....

    What I liked about this book is that the heroine is HIV+. For the most part, HIV and AIDS are still treated like taboo subjects that happens to other people. But this book is about a real woman who could be anybody. But I was disappointed by the lack of depth in the book. The author could have explored the heroine's emotions a little more. Nevertheless it covers a necessary subject and does so without judgment. The author is brave to tackle such a difficult topic in such a normal manner.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted February 19, 2007

    What looks like crazy...

    This book overall was okay. The first half of the book was a real bore...BUT then the ending half was really good and i couldnt put it down. i wish overall the whole book could have been that good.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted December 27, 2006

    How did this get to be in Oprah's Book Club?!

    I believe this is one of the worst books I've ever read. The vulgarity is unreal! I almost didn't finish reading it, and I ended up just skimming the last chapters. I was extremely disappointed.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 14, 2006

    Guess I read a different book!

    I found this book a chore to read. I just didn't get into any of the characters. Thankfully it was short or I would not have even bothered finishing it. If you would like to be bored to death and like reading profanities sprinkled on every page then go ahead. My whole book club was disappointed with this one. Don't think I am going to read any more of her books.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 4, 2006

    A Literary Gem

    What Looks Like Crazy on an Ordinary Day. By Pearl Cleage. As an avid reader there are times I am desperate for a book to read and yet cannot seem to find one I have not read. It was suggested by a friend that I read this book. Having never heard of the author I hesitated for a moment and then bought it. At first realizing this was a story about a woman who had Aids I wondered if I would be able to read it. To my surprise once I opened it and read the first chapter I was unable to put this book down. This is a first novel for this writer and I must say a literary gem. From start to finish the writing is exceptional, the characters vivid and so close you can touch them. Though there is so much sadness, death, drugs, and cruelty the author never allowed you to dwell on these facts alone. She had you feel only the love, and hope, the goodness of some in spite of the meanness of others. The ending is uplifting, for you also close the book knowing that you have finished a novel well worth reading. I have bought three more of Pearl Cleage's books and cannot wait to read them.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 23, 2006

    To say that the book is good is an understatement.

    I picked up this book because I wanted to get into reading again and i am so glad I did because Pearl Cleage is such a good author that I think comparing her to Terry Mcmillan does not do her justice. You can actually hear these poeple talking in the book it is so vivid and full of attitude even in what should be a sad situation, it is great.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted March 19, 2006

    J'adore le roman!

    You should read this book if you got a few hours on your hand or if you need a distraction, because it will consume your appetit for good books. I skipped all my hmwk to read this book in one night and I did it cuz it was extremely good!~its fo grown folks and book lovers alike

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 22, 2006

    Engrossing Read, but predictable

    All in all, a very enjoyable book. I liked the way she developed the characters, and the positive message she kept throughout the book. I did find, though, that it was slightly predictable in some areas. But, all in all, a good, solid book.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 9, 2005

    Fantastic Read!

    This was my first from the author and I am in love with her writing. This story grabbed me and kept me to the end. The best part was how her writing makes it so familiar as if you were actually living it out. Great laughs, emotions and writing. Loved the characters and storyline. Thanks Pearl Cleage!

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 3, 2005

    Open your eyes and you can see it.

    From the first page to end, I could see the ordinary people with ordinary problem and their extrodinary courage. It made love my life more and enjoyable.

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