Betty Jean is busy. Nearing retirement age, she is struggling to maintain her hotel job. In addition, she has more family drama than one person should be able to handle. Terry McMillan’s Who Asked You? plunges us deeply into Betty Jean’s family dynamic—with all its squabbles, misunderstandings, frustrations, and ultimately its triumphs. And while we understand the difficulties, we also rejoice with the preservation of the family ties and the deep commitment that is required to truly love someone.
Betty Jean (BJ) has quite a family. She is one of three very different sisters. Arlene, the outspoken and always right sister, is nonetheless clueless when it comes to her grown son, Omar, and his desire to break free of her control. Venetia has problems with her absent husband and her children. Though each sister seems to be able to articulate what is wrong with the other, there is a great deal of resentment and pain in the family relationship. BJ, the most uneducated of the sisters, lives under the condemnation of Arlene because of her relationship with her children.
BJ’s daughter, Trinetta, a mother herself, is addicted to drugs and is unable to care for her children. She dumps them on BJ one day while she runs off with yet another boyfriend. Her son, Dexter, is in jail for a crime he swears that he did not commit. And her son Quentin, is a chiropractor who has moved away to Oregon and has had more wives than BJ cares to mention. Add to this BJ’s husband, Lee Daniel, who is suffering from dementia and needs nursing care, and you have a fuller picture of BJ’s challenges.
Who Asked You? is told in short chapters alternating between several characters—including BJ and her sisters, their children, and BJ’s best friend and neighbor, Tammy. Because of this, you get a clear sense of each person and their thoughts and motivations. I did not have any trouble at all keeping the storylines straight because McMillan did a masterful job of making each character’s voice distinct and real. Honestly, I knew I was in the hands of a master after only a few pages. Each character is compelling in his/her own way and there was not one section that I did not enjoy.
This book really belongs to BJ and her sisters and their relationships. They formed the solid core in the heart of this novel. It is through their efforts and love that the family is able to thrive and grow (though not without angst). Their family is messy—but filled with people trying to honor themselves as well as keep their place.
While I could do without a few political references to 9/11 as well as the election of President Barack Obama, I thoroughly enjoyed my time with this cast of characters. It is rare that I have read a novel with such complicated family relationships that brought such satisfaction to me as a reader. Highly recommended.
*I received a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. Regina