You Know Better: A Novel

You Know Better: A Novel

by Tina McElroy Ansa


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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780060512460
Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date: 01/07/2003
Series: Harper Perennial
Edition description: FIRST
Pages: 336
Sales rank: 646,381
Product dimensions: 5.31(w) x 8.00(h) x 0.76(d)

About the Author

Novelist Tina McElroy Ansa calls herself "part of a writing tradition, one of those little Southern girls who always knew she wanted to be a writer." She grew up in Middle Georgia in the 1950s hearing her grandfather's stories on the porch of her family home and strangers' stories downtown in her father's juke joint, which have inspired Mulberry, Georgia, the mythical world of her four novels.

Tina McElroy Ansa was born in Macon, GA, the youngest of five children. In 1971, she graduated from Spelman College, the historically black women's college which is part of the Atlanta University Center in Atlanta, GA. Her first job after college was on the copy desk of The Atlanta Constitution, where she was the first black woman to work on the morning newspaper. During her eight years at The Atlanta Constitution, she worked as copy editor, makeup editor, layout editor, entertainment writer, features editor, and news reporter. She also worked as editor and copy editor for The Charlotte (NC) Observer. Since 1982, she has been a freelance journalist, newspaper columnist and writing workshop instructor at Brunswick College, Emory University and Spelman College.

Tina McElroy Ansa's fourth novel, You Know Better, will be published in Spring 2002 by William Morrow Publishers. The novel addresses the contemporary issues of children today, the tenuous ties we are building with them, and how we can reclaim them.

Ms. Ansa's first novel, Baby of the Family, was published in 1989 by Harcourt Brace Jovanovich and was named a Notable Book of the Year by the New York Times. Baby of the Family was also on the African-American Bestseller List for Paperback Fiction. In October 2001, Baby of the Family was chosen by the Georgia Center for the Book as one of the Top 25 Books Every Georgian Should Read. The book also won both the American Library Association Best Book for Young Adults in 1990 Award, and won the 1989 Georgia Authors Series Award. She and her husband, AFI (American Film Institute) Fellow filmmaker Jonee' Ansa, are currently adapting Baby of the Family for the screen as a feature film starring Alfre Woodard, Ruby Dee, Loretta Devine, Sheryl Lee Ralph, Cylk Cozart, Vanessa Williams, Todd Bridges, Pam Grier, and Tonea Stewart. The author is collaborating with her husband on the screenplay for Baby of the Family, which he will direct and shoot in summer 2002 in Macon, GA. Ms. Ansa is executive producer. Patrice Rushen is the film's composer.

Harcourt Brace published Ms. Ansa's second novel, Ugly Ways, in July 1993. The African-American Blackboard List named the novel Best Fiction in 1994. Ms. Ansa was nominated for an NAACP Image Award in 1994 for Ugly Ways and the novel was on the African-American Best-sellers/Blackboard List for more than two years. Award-winning actress Alfre Woodard has entered into a partnership with Ms. Ansa to bring Ugly Ways to the screen.

The Hand I Fan With, her third novel, was published in October of 1996 by Doubleday. This is the beautifully erotic love story of Lena McPherson and the 100-year old ghost — Herman — she calls up to love and cherish her. The novel was awarded the Georgia Authors Series Award for 1996. Ms. Ansa also won this same award for her debut novel, Baby in the Family, and is the only two-time winner of the honor.

Tina McElroy Ansa is a regular contributor to the award-winning television series CBS Sunday Morning with her essays, "Postcards from Georgia." She also writes magazine and newspaper articles, Op-Ed pieces and book reviews for the Los Angeles Times, (New York) Newsday, The Atlanta Constitution, and the Florida Times-Union. Her non-fiction work has appeared in Essence Magazine, The Crisis Magazine, MS. Magazine, America Magazine, and Atlanta Magazine.

Tina McElroy Ansa was a Writer-in-Residence at her alma mater Spelman College in Atlanta, GA in the Fall of 1990 where she also taught creative writing. In addition to touring for her books and giving lectures, she has presented her work at the Smithsonian's African-American Center's Author's Series; the Richard Wright/Zora Neale Hurston Foundation; the PEN/Faulkner Reading Series and fundraisers at the Folger Shakespeare Library, the Schomburg Center and the PEN American Center. She is on the Advisory Council for the Georgia Center for the Book and on the host committee for the Flannery O'Connor Awards.

Reflecting her concern with the issue of homelessness in this country, she has participated in fund-raising events including readings at the SOS-sponsored Writers Harvest at Georgia Tech in Atlanta, GA and at the University of Georgia in Athens, GA. She has also volunteered for fundraisers and house-buildings for Habitat for Humanity and has read at Atlanta-based fundraisers for Aid to Children of Imprisoned Mothers.

She and her husband, Jonee' Ansa, have lived on St. Simons Island, GA since 1984. Together they produced and directed the 1989 Georgia Sea Island Festival, a 20-year old grassroots festival that seeks to preserve crafts, music, slave chants, games, food and the spirit of the African-American people who lived and worked as slaves on the rice and cotton plantations along the Georgia coast. Ms. Ansa is an avid birder, amateur naturalist, and gardener. She always has collard greens growing in her garden among the black-eyed Susans and moonflowers.

Read an Excerpt

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.

Reading Group Guide


It is the spring weekend of the Peach Blossom Festival in the tiny middle Georgia town of Mulberry, but things are far from peachy for the Pines women. LaShawndra, an eighteen-year-old hoochie-mama 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; after all, Sandra is busy working on her real estate career and on the local minister. It's LaShawndra's grandmother, Lily, a former schoolteacher, principal, school board administrator, and highly respected cornerstone of the Mulberry community, who is scouring the streets at midnight looking for her granddaughter.

Over the course of one weekend these three disparate but connected women, guided by a trio of unexpected spirits, will learn to face the pain in their lives and discover that with reconciliation comes the healing they all desperately seek.

In this magical, deeply resonant novel, Tina McElroy Ansa goes straight to the heart of family, women's relationships, and the generational divide to reveal the soul that bonds us all.

For Discussion

  • Nurse Bloom instructs Sandra to "Bless your child!" What kinds of blessings are you passing along to your children? What kinds of curses do we pass along without realizing it?

  • Many of the talents and gifts evident in Lily and Sandra are overlooked in LaShawndra. Why do you think this is? What are some of those gifts?

  • Music is a large influence in the main characters' lives. How does each character view music and its part in her life?

  • Do you believe in Spiritguides and why? What is a spirit guide in your estimation? How can it be of help?

  • Do you agree with Lily and Sandra's estimation of the younger generation? Their music? Their language? Their dress? Their goals?

  • Who in the novel do you most identify with? With whom would you like to identify?

  • What elements of spirituality do you see in the novel besides the appearance of Miss Moses, Nurse Bloom, and Miss Liza Jane?

  • Sandra says she feels as if she is the middle child of the Pines family trio. How do the three Pines women relate to each other and the world as The Eldest (Lily), the Middle Child (Sandra), and the Baby of the Family (LaShawndra)? Do you see these same dynamics in your own family? In other families you know?

  • How has the town of Mulberry changed since you first encountered it in Ansa's debut novel Baby of the Family? How has it changed and grown with each of her novels?

  • How do Lily, Sandra, and LaShawndra view spirituality, religion, and faith? How do these views differ or meld? How do these views change from the beginning of the novel to the end?

  • Although women are definitely in charge in You Know Better, discuss the men in the novel: Charles, Wee Willie, LaShawn, Pastor, the nameless men the three women have dated.

  • Sandra has had a spotty history with men. Do you think Sandra and the Pastor will find a meaningful relationship with one another? Why do you think she is drawn to him?

  • Crystal is a character the reader doesn't see, but who is significant to LaShawndra and critical to the plot of the novel. How does Crystal's part in the novel affect your view of Lily, Sandra, and LaShawndra?

  • What concrete steps can we take to reclaim our children? Which ones were suggested to Lily and Sandra? What steps to reclaim herself were suggested to LaShawndra? How do you see these same issues in your own lives?

  • Compare LaShawndra to other young women you know. What specific challenges do women of this generation face? How different are they from the challenges you faced at that age?

  • Discuss your response to the kinds of words LaShawndra uses nonchalantly - words like "ho," "nigga," and "bitch." How do you feel about the way this language influences black culture? Our society as a whole?

  • Each woman is able to learn something from her visiting spirit that she could not learn from any of the others. What does Lily learn from her time with Miss Moses? What realization does Sandra have with Nurse Bloom? What conclusions does LaShawndra draw from Miss Liza Jane? Did any character experience the world in a way that was surprising or shocking to you?

    ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Tina McElroy Ansa is the author of the novels Baby of the Family, Ugly Ways, The Hand I Fan With, and You Know Better. She has contributed the essays "Postcards From Georgia" to CBS News Sunday Morning. An avid gardener, birder, and amateur naturalist, she is married to Jonée Ansa, a filmmaker. They reside on St. Simon's Island, Georgia. She and her husband are currently producing the film adaptation of her first novel Baby of the Family.

  • Customer Reviews

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    You Know Better 3.2 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 14 reviews.
    Anonymous More than 1 year ago
    Now everyone is reading this in 2012
    Anonymous More than 1 year ago
    I enjoyed this book. The author did a fantastic job in keeping the reader engaged. An enjoyable story with twists and turns. Good Reading!
    Anonymous More than 1 year ago
    Anonymous More than 1 year ago
    Guest More than 1 year ago
    I saw the book on the shelf but though it might be more enjoyable on tape. I was so wrong! This book was slow, wordy and full of stuff that could have been left out.
    Guest More than 1 year ago
    I enjoyed this book tremedously. I couldn't wait to find out what happened. I defintely recommend it.
    Guest More than 1 year ago
    I loved this book! I shows triumph of a split family. I love the way Tina McElroy Ansa has the different ghost (who all were known by the grandmother) show the family that what is happening in their life is for a reason, and it can always change if they want it to. It truly is an outstanding book. I got it for my birthday this year in July and I have read it 10 times already. Once you start there is no stopping until you are through!!!!!
    Guest More than 1 year ago
    This book is definitely too wordy, but I intend to give Ms Ansa a second chance. The reviews are better on her other two books.
    Guest More than 1 year ago
    this book was ok. the last section(Lashawndra's story)was the best and most exciting
    Guest More than 1 year ago
    This novel is thought provoking. It reminds us to listen to our elders for wisdom, and that in spite of our differences, we can still love one another.
    Guest More than 1 year ago
    You Know Better tells the story of three-generation women of the Pine Family and how three women of their past touch lives. Their encounters with Miss Moses, Nurse Bloom and Eliza Jane reveals to them the error of their ways and puts back together their fragile relationships. Lily, the family matriarch well known and respected pillar of the community, struggles with a whole host of things: preserving the precious image of her family, the failure of her first marriage for the second time and keeping her wayward granddaughter out of harm¿s way among them. Ms. Moses teaches Lily that what¿s important is not what people think or say about you. Sandra, Lily¿s daughter has reached a comfortable level of success as one of the leading real estate agents in town. Sandra herself struggles rejection after her boyfriend skips out when she get pregnant and her inability to truly love and connect with her daughter. Sandra derives what little happiness she has from the material things she has managed to attain. Her surface disdain and disconnection from her daughter has left their relationship in tatters. What Sandra doesn¿t realize is that the behavior her daughter displays is a result of her constant negative judgment and criticism. LaShawndra, Sandra¿s daughter has made up in her mind that if her mother Sandra thinks she is a nobody going nowhere, then that¿s what she is going to be. LaShawndra¿s only solace seems to come from her Grandmother Lily. As the story unfolds each of these women sees how much they are really alike. Overall our group rated this book three stars. To our group the book was a hard read and we felt the ending could have been tied together a little better. Not once was it mention in the book that the encounters were with ghosts and we feel this warranted some conversation between Lily, Sandra, and LaShawndra at the end of the book to tie what they learned about themselves and each other together.
    Guest More than 1 year ago
    Unlike Baby of the Family and The Hand I Fan With, this 'ghost' story is told with too much rambling and repetitive descriptions re each persons life. It was almost as if the writer had a set quota on how many pages this book had to be rather than whether this story could have been told in half the amount of space.
    Guest More than 1 year ago
    While reading this book, I couldn't help but think of my grandmother, mother, and myself. We each had different views of my life while I was growing up, yet as I reached adulthood, I realized we're so much a like. I like to thank Mrs. Ansa for each one of her novels (I've read them all). Keep on writing, and I'll keep on reading.
    coraltheo More than 1 year ago
    I remember an I Love Lucy episode where Lucy is excited because the book she's writing is going to be published, only to find later that it's to be included in a book showing what 'not' to do. I think this book must have been featured in that same book. I used to love Ms. Ansa's previous books. I gobbled up her books, "Baby in the Family," and "The Hand I Fan With." [WARNING, I'm doing this on purpose] I used to have a fan, so I never needed my hand to do it with, but I remember my Gradmother always using hers, and her husband, my third grandfather, used to go get one of the fans they used to give out during Sunday meetings. I love the Lord, but church lasted so long, I got up to go to church only to come home and have to go right to bed. But my husband loved it, even though he would go dancing the night before, but never seemed to mind the three hours of sleep. I watched a doctor on Oprah once say you need at least 8 hours of sleep. Kids need 10 hours, or so I heard on Supernanny. Ms. Moss down on 30th street isn't an expert but she weighs 300 lbs... And, so it goes with the pacing of this story; what I wrote above is exactly what I went through reading the first 60 pages of the book. Lillie Pines is awakened by a spirit from beyond, sensing something was very wrong with her granddaughter, LaShawndra. To be fair, the first few pages she's driving and spots a neighbor she believed was dead, but the flashback took the bulk of the first 30 pages just for Ms. Pines to get in the blippin' car to start looking for her granddaughter. By page 60, the only place she's covered is some river where she interuppts some kids 'playing Twister' in the back seat of a car (which took all of one page). When she got back in the car to reminisce some more, I'd had enough and archived the thing. As far as plot, I don't know enough of it to comment. What I know of the plot was said on the story synposis on the back. I love the cover art (always have for her books). I enjoy a descriptive read, but when it interferes with the pace of the story, it's not for me. If I could get my money back, I'd definitely ask for it.