You Know Better

You Know Better

3.2 12
by Tina McElroy Ansa

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As the tiny town of Mulberry, Georgia, celebrates its spring Peach Blossom Festival, things are far from peachy for three generations of Pines women.

Eighteen-year-old LaShawndra, who wants nothing more out of life than to dance in a music video, has messed up again -- but this time she isn't sticking around to hear about it. Not that her mother seems to

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As the tiny town of Mulberry, Georgia, celebrates its spring Peach Blossom Festival, things are far from peachy for three generations of Pines women.

Eighteen-year-old LaShawndra, who wants nothing more out of life than to dance in a music video, has messed up again -- but this time she isn't sticking around to hear about it. Not that her mother seems to care: Sandra is too busy working on her career and romancing a local minister to notice. It's LaShawndra’s grandmother Lily Paine Pines who is out scouring the streets at midnight looking for her granddaughter. But Lily discovers she is not alone. A ghost of a well-known Mulberry pioneer is coming out of the shadows.

Over the course of one weekend, these three disparate women, guided by the wisdom of three unexpected spirits, will learn to face the pain of their lives and discover that with reconciliation comes the healing they all desperately seek. You Know Better brilliantly portrays the fissures in modern African American family life to reveal the indestructible soul that bonds us all.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
African-American favorite Ansa (The Hand I Fan With) focuses in her fourth novel on three generations of troubled women in a small Georgia town, employing the Dickensian device of ghostly guides to lead them to enlightenment. The Peach Blossom Festival is upon tiny Mulberry, but the Pines women have little reason for rejoicing. LaShawndra, an 18-year-old "coochie" who engages in indiscriminate sex and whose greatest aspiration is to dance in a music video, has disappeared. Her mother, Sandra, is too busy with her real estate career, her new romance with a pastor and youth-enhancing beauty treatments to look for LaShawndra. So it falls to the girl's grandmother, Lily, a respected pillar of the community, to perform the search. The book is a first-person triptych, the three Pines women taking turns from oldest to youngest in detailing how they arrived at this latest crisis point and each has a different spirit guide to help her out. Ansa has a clear prose style, and she does a fine job of getting inside the women's heads; the chief problem is that, with the exception of Lily, her protagonists are unsympathetic. Lily herself overplays the religion card, while Sandra and LaShawndra are too selfish to rouse much sympathy. One thing they have in common: all three take the scenic route in their extended confessions, resulting in a book that is almost all past history with very little plot. Agent, Owen Laster. Harper Audio. (Apr. 2) Forecast: Ansa, a Blackboard bestselling writer with a bit of literary flair, improves on the lightweight Hand I Fan With here, but probably won't boost her readership much, though a strong marketing campaign and a 10-city author tour could help. More likely to enhance long-term sales if it is picked up by a major distributor is a forthcoming film adaptation of Ansa's award-winning first novel, Baby of the Family, featuring Alfre Woodard, Pam Grier and Vanessa Williams, among others. Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information.
Library Journal
A runaway teenager, an oblivious mother, and a worried grandmother take center stage in this new work from Ansa, whose Ugly Ways was the 1994 African American Blackboard Novel of the Year. Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
Three generations of small-town black women, aided by lovable ghosts. Lily Paine Pines drives around Mulberry, Georgia, looking for LaShawndra, her wayward granddaughter, when the wispy, wrinkled apparition of a much-loved local teacher, Miss Grace Moses, appears in the seat beside her, offering sage counsel and companionship during the long night. Miss Moses listens patiently as Lily reminisces about her own childhood and teaching career-and about her failed marriage to Charles, a compulsive gambler who doted on their only daughter, Sandra. Did he spoil her? As a teenager, Sandra got pregnant but never paid much attention to her daughter, much to Lily's dismay. Now, Sandra, who sells real estate, is involved in a romantic relationship with a preacher and is generally obsessed with respectability and material things. Luckily, she's showing houses to another wise ghost, Nurse Joanna Bloom, once a midwife at the local colored hospital. Joanna is a stalwart spirit in starched white who teaches cynical Sandra a thing or two about hope. Sandra finds out that Joanna aborted her own illegitimate baby decades ago-and made up for it by bringing generations of babies into the world. Shift to LaShawndra, a hootchie-mama of 19 who favors microskirts and tube tops. She's got a reputation as a ho (she isn't) and is always ready to hook up with any good-for-nothing who struts by; now, she's hitching to Freaknik, a wild spring-break party for black college students, when a phat phantom in a shiny black Jag pulls over. Why, it's Liza Jane, the glamorous, tough-talking former owner of a juke joint. LaShawndra can't tell if Liza Jane is real or not, but her car sure is. The two head down the road, andLaShawndra finds out that the good times can kill her if she's not careful. And so on. Can-I-get-a-witness enthusiasm can't compensate for a nearly nonexistent story. From the author of similar tales (The Hand I Fan With, 1996, etc.). Author tour

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Chapter One

"Miss Moses?! Is that you? Good God, I thought you were dead!"

They were the first words that I spoke to that dear old lady. And I did not merely speak them. I shouted them — from across the street — out the window of my automobile.

Can you believe it? That was the first thing out of my mouth: "I thought you were dead!" It was so unlike me. But then again, as my little granddaughter and her contemporaries say, "I was stressed!"

I rolled down the window and shouted it all the way across the street right out of the car. Of course, I was mortified. I was beyond mortified. I had spent my entire life conducting myself in an exemplaryfashion. Any deviation from that role disturbed me.

In my embarrassment over that coarse slip, I almost forgot for a moment that I was out after midnight on a Saturday morning scouting around the streets of Mulberry, Georgia, looking for my almost, nineteen-year-old granddaughter, LaShawndra, my only grandchild.

That was the reason I was in what used to be downtown Mulberry, outside the local nightspot called The Club, located on the corner of Broadway and Cherry Street, looking for LaShawndra even though I knew the establishment had closed at midnight, nearly an hour before. If LaShawndra had gone there, I figured I might still be able to catch her little butt hanging around outside looking for a ride.

But the only little figure I saw on the corner of Broadway and Cherry Street that dark early morning was that of old Miss Moses, Mulberry'spioneering educator. Georgia.

The clouds chose just that moment to shift in the sky, exposing a moon directly over her head that was split right down the middle, like half a pie.

Seeing that old blind lady in the middle of downtown Mulberry at almost one o'clock in the morning more than shocked me.

At first I almost thought I was having a flashback from some bad drugs I took back in the sixties.

I couldn't help myself. I was stunned to see Miss Moses standing right under one of those high-crime, high-intensity streetlamps with an umbrella hanging over her arm — proudly — as if she were fully prepared for anything. I lowered the window on the passenger's side and yelled across the seat, almost expecting her to vanish before my eyes. But I knew I was seeing the old woman's face clearly. There was no mistake about it. It was Miss Moses.

The first reason I was so surprised to see Miss Moses, even in the midst of this crisis with my granddaughter, LaShawndra — besides the fact that it was nearly one o'clock in the morning — was that Miss Moses was all by herself. And I couldn't believe that Miss Moses was the kind of elderly blind person who went off on a jaunt by herself.

I knew a blind masseur I would go to sometimes. Extraordinary man. He told me that as a teenager he regularly jumped the fence of the Mulberry School for the Blind and ventured out at night to buy beer for his dormitory cohorts at the corner 7-eleven. Imagine the nerve that took.

But I could not imagine Miss Moses jumping any fences at night to come out to The Club. My God, she had to have been ninety-five if she was a day.

Miss Moses looked like a dainty little wrinkled urban poppy growing up through a crack in the middle of all that weathered concrete. And between the bright streetlight she was standing under and my increasing farsightedness — you know I can see farther off now that I can close up — I could see her just as clear as day. She was dressed in this red and purple flowered voile dress that nearly came down to her ankles. And it had a high neck with some grayish-looking crocheted cotton lace around the collar. The sleeves of the dress were long, all the way past her wrists, but you know how you can see through voile, so I could see her little stick arms through the sleeves.

Planted on top of her head was a small, round, pink straw pillbox hat — I had not seen one of them in thirty years — with a strip of hot pink grosgrain ribbon for a band. And planted on top of the pillbox hat was a huge — I mean huge — lavender cabbage rose.

All of which made her gray nappy hair, kind of tucked in in some places and sticking up in other places, look like a tuft of dried but living grass sprouting around the pillbox.

You know she had on a sweater. In fact, she had on two sweaters. One on top of the other. But she didn't have either one of them completely on. Both sweaters were merely thrown around her shoulders. And I was worried about her standing out there on a street corner in the cool. Her little gray sweater with yellowed satin ribbon woven throughout was just wrapped around her bony shoulders, and the two top buttons were fastened to keep it on. And another buttercup yellow cotton sweater with pink and blue flowers embroidered on it was tossed on top of that first one. And its top two buttons were fastened, too.

The second reason I was surprised to see her there was I was almost sure I had seen the notice of Miss Moses's death in the Mulberry Times a few months before. I read the local newspaper cover to cover each weekday morning before I leave for work and in the afternoons on the weekend. Most mornings I'm up to hear the thump of the paper on my front porch. I could have sworn I'd seen Miss Moses's obituary! GRACE MOSES, LOCAL EDUCATION PIONEER, DEAD AT 95. Or something like that. The death notice had...

You Know Better. Copyright © by Tina Ansa. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.

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