Wednesday, July 13, 2016

Review of "Who Asked You?" by Terry McMillan

Betty Jean (BJ), an African American hotel employee, lives in a middle-class, mixed-race neighborhood in Los Angeles with her husband Lee David, who has Alzheimer's disease. As the book opens BJ's drug-addict daughter Trinetta drops off her two school-aged sons, Luther and Ricky, 'for a few days' while she 'applies for a job'. Trinetta then takes off for Atlanta with her new guy, leaving the kids behind.

BJ also has other things on her mind. Her oldest son Quentin, a wealthy chiropracter who's distanced himself from the family, has just married his fifth blonde caucasian wife. BJ's middle son Dexter is in prison and constantly sends letters complaining about his wrongful conviction for carjacking (he did it), talking about his big plans for the future (delusional), and asking for money (which BJ doesn't have). BJ has Dexter's number though, and she lets him know it.

BJ is also concerned about her two sisters: Arlene - proud of her psychology degree - is a single mother who dotes on her obese 29-year old son Omar (Arlene overfeeds him)...but she won't let him grow up; and Venetia - a religious Bible thumper - has a lovely house, a cheating husband who 'travels' constantly, and two children bound for college.

To top it off, BJ's worried she might have to put Lee David - a good man and loyal spouse - into 'one of those places'. Lee David has become a shadow of his former self, largely unaware of his surroundings, who lies in bed watching "Dora the Explorer" (a children's show).

Two other major characters in the book are Tammy and Nurse Kim. Tammy is BJ's neighbor and best friend, a caring helpful woman who BJ can confide in. Tammy, a white woman married to a black man, is funny when she talks about the attitude she gets from black women. And Nurse Kim is David Lee's skilled caregiver, a sexy lady whose 'caregiving' is all-inclusive (and maybe a little over-the top).

ALERT: The rest of this review might contain (what you consider) spoilers. So read at your own risk.
                                                        SPOILER ALERT!

The story, told in rotating voices by all the main characters, follows the lives of these people for more than a decade. Luther and Ricky move from grade school through college, with some ups and downs along the way. Luther, a good student and caring brother, loves Grandma's cooking, reading, and football. I was glad when he gave his Uncle Quentin a richly deserved 'what for'. Ricky - affected by drugs in the womb - struggles with school, joins the swim team, and falls off the rails a bit (selling drugs). But BJ knows how to set him straight.

Through it all BJ struggles to feed, clothe, and support these beloved grandsons with limited financial resources. Unfortunately, BJ has to give up the hard won 'zero balance' on her Sears credit card.

As for the other characters: Quentin and his wife have a baby, but he remains aloof from the family until things go downhill and he has an epiphany. Dexter gets out on parole, forgets his 'big plans', sponges off his mom, and gets into trouble (again). Arlene is more than dismayed when Omar moves out to lead his own life and come to terms with his sexuality. Venetia can't admit her marriage is over, even when her husband leaves her for another woman - until she finally 'grows up'. Nurse Kim eventually leaves to become a traveling nurse - which makes young Luther (who has a crush) a bit sad. And more.

                                                      END SPOILER ALERT

All the characters are believable, well-rounded, and stir our emotions....whether we like them or have disdain for them. This is a well-written engaging book that provides an authentic picture of one family's dynamics. Highly recommended.

Rating: 4 stars

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