Let me not front. I’ve never been a diehard fan of Terry McMillan’s books. That’s not to say I thought her bestselling works weren’t good, but I just wasn’t reading them. I got so caught up in trying to watch the adapted movies instead that starred folks like Whitney Houston, Whoopi Goldberg and Angela Bassett, that I never bothered to go back and read Waiting to Exhale, How Stella Got Her Groove Back, or the soon-to-be-filmed A Day Late And a Dollar Short. Nothing personal.
But when the chance came to read her new book, Who Asked You? I jumped at the chance. The plot seemed interesting enough. A middle-aged woman’s life is in chaos (sounds familiar, huh?) as she tackles a wealth of responsibilities that include trying to seek help for her husband who is slowly fading away due to Alzheimer’s, taking care of the two young sons of her drug-addicted daughter who can’t seem to get it together, and trying to deal with her nosy and unhappy sisters all while trying not to lose her mind (and her bad knee) in Los Angeles. But the plot wasn’t just “interesting,” it was gripping. And yet, it also managed to be humorous all at the same time. You see, this middle-aged woman, who goes by the name of Betty Jean, tells her story from the first-person viewpoint, so she gets to share her happiness, her sadness, and her clear irritations with her life and the people in it with the reader. And if that’s not enough, every major character introduced in the story also gets to tell their story in first-person narrative from chapter to chapter. From Betty Jean’s best friend Tammy, to her incarcerated son, her husband’s nurse, and even her grandsons. And not only do they tell their story, but they share their opinions on what they see going on in Betty Jean’s life, even if they’re not actively doing anything to help. That’s probably why the story is called Who Asked You? because despite the fact that no one asked, each character has so much to say about each other’s business.
For anyone who has ever had a mother or grandmother, aunt or friend who came off like Superwoman, taking on every task to keep the family afloat, you’ll thoroughly enjoy, and relate, to this book. Or better yet, you’ll really be able to relate if Betty Jean sounds like you. It’s magnificently written, so much so that each chapter will play like a short film in your head (isn’t that what happens when you read good books? Or is that just me?). And no worries, the characters keep it very real. Some curse like sailors, others are hiding major secrets they have yet to share with those around them, and you’re likely to see someone you know in at least one of the individuals introduced. As the daughter of a stay-at-home mother who still helps to take care of grandbabies and deals with the sadness and disappointment of losing a son with a great deal of potential at the prime of his life years ago, I see a lot of Betty Jean in my own mother. And maybe that’s why I liked her so much.
If you’re looking for a quick read, Who Asked You? can be that. Hell, it’s only 400 pages. And by the time you start, once you get sucked in, you’ll look up and realize you’re already at page 100. The book is such an achievement of great black literature from a woman’s point of view, that now I’m a bit thirsty to go back and read me some A Day Late And a Dollar Short, How Stella Got Her Groove Back, and Waiting To Exhale. So…anybody got a copy they can lend a sista?