"Getting to Happy"? Happy to Get It [SPOILERS]
By Bridget Magnus on June 14, 2011
Alright, true confession time. When the email came through asking if I wanted to review Terry McMillan's Getting to Happy, I didn't actually read the description. I signed up thinking it was a self-help book. When it arrived, I realized my mistake: "A sequel to a book I've never read? What was I thinking! Who are these characters?"
Within 3 pages, I realized that I did so know these characters -- I just didn't know their names yet! I've known dozens of women just like these ladies, and so have you. I admit I was still nervous that there might be things about the African-American community I didn't understand, but my fear was unfounded. In fact, the experiences of these women mirror those that our our friends and co-workers experience.
Savannah just discovered that her husband is cheating on her, on top of his porn addiction, money problems, and IRS problem. Bernadine is dependent on prescription drugs, and is starting to realize that's a problem. Gloria's husband is an innocent bystander killed in a gang shootout. And Robin is a single mother in a dead-end job where every co-worker lives in fear that they will be fired in a matter of weeks. Every single one of them has a lot of work ahead to actually get to happy.
Along the way, the book oh-so-gently touches upon a cornucopia of important societal issues: teen pregnancy; gang violence; LGBT rights; incarceration rates among black men; compulsive behavior and drug abuse; the problems of running a small business; grief; infidelity and divorce; unemployment; feminism; activism; even the unusual names given to some African-American children. Anchoring the book in time, about 2/3 of the way through the book Hurricane Katrina hits (miles away -- the ladies live in Arizona) and relief efforts are discussed.
With 4 central characters, the author has the difficult task of showing us whose life we are observing at the moment. McMillan chooses for two characters to narrate in first person, while the two others are in third person. Group scenes go with the point of view of the dominant character for that chapter. This does mean that at least once, the reader will have to figure out which character they are following as they begin a chapter. It's not a big problem, but something to be aware of.
All things considered, I did enjoy the book -- even the ending! In its own peculiar way, it was just the "self-help" book I was hoping to read.
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