The basics: Who Asked You? is the story of Betty Jean, a hardworking hotel room service worker, and her family and friends. As the novel opens, Betty Jean's daughter Trinetta drops two of her three children, each of whom has a different father, for Betty Jean to care for indefinitely. Betty Jean is already struggling with caring for her ill husband, who has a daytime nurse care for him while Betty Jean is at work. One of her sons is in prison. The other never visits and rarely communicates. Her two sisters are always eager to share their opinions. Betty Jean's main source of support is her best friend and neighbor Tammy, who faces family struggles of her own.
My thoughts: How Stella Got Her Groove Back is one of my all-time favorite novels. I have read it more times than any other novel in my adulthood. Perhaps because I first read it in high school and re-read it throughout college and my early twenties, I foolishly assumed I had outgrown McMillan. Who Asked You? felt like reconnecting with an old friend, and it reaffirmed my love for Terry McMillan and her ability to create so many life-like characters in a singular narrative.
I was instantly enchanted with this novel and its characters. The novel opens in Betty Jean's voice, and she orients the reader (or listener in my case) to this extended cast of characters beautifully. While there is a large cast of characters, I was never confused and never struggled to tell them apart. Even more remarkably, although Betty Jean is perhaps the core character, as all other characters have a connection to her, she is not the main character in a traditional sense. There are so many narrators who make the story even more rich and layered. The reader sees the motivations and reactions of all the characters, even when they lack self-awareness.
Audio thoughts: I realize more and more how much I enjoy multiple narrators in a book with so many narrators. Phylicia Rashad voiced the older black women, Terry McMillan voiced the younger black women, Carole DeSanti voiced the white women, and Michael Boatman voiced all of the men. Initially, I expected each narrator to only voice one character, but I soon realized how many narrators McMillan was utilizing. One particular delight: Phylicia Rashad narrating a character's thoughts about not measuring up to Clair Huxtable. The narrators all handled scenes with laughter, pain, and wisdom beautifully. DeSanti's narration left me cold at first, but as the novel went on, I think it made sense.
The verdict: Who Asked You? is simultaneously heartbreaking and heartwarming. Listening to this novel was like hanging out with friends so close they might as well be family, and I have missed their presence in my life since I finished this novel.
Rating: 4.5 out of 5
Length: 10 hours 2 minutes (401 pages)
Publication date: September 17, 2013
Convinced? Treat yourself! Buy Who Asked You? from an independent bookstore, the Book Depository or Amazon (Kindle edition.)
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