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What Looks Like Crazy on an Ordinary Day (Oprah's Book Club) Paperback – November 1, 1998

4.3 out of 5 stars 510 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

Oprah Book Club® Selection, September 1998: What makes Pearl Cleage's novel so damned enjoyable? At first glance, after all, What Looks Like Crazy on an Ordinary Day seems pretty heavy going: HIV, suicide, sudden infant death syndrome, and drunk driving all figure prominently in the lives of narrator Ava Johnson and her older sister Joyce. It isn't long before crack addiction, domestic violence, and unwed motherhood have joined the list--so, where's the pleasure? The answer lies in the sharp and funny attitude Cleage brings to her depiction of one African American community in the troubled '90s. Ava Johnson, for example, might be HIV-positive, but she's refreshingly forthright about it: "Most of us got it from the boys. Which is, when you think about it, a pretty good argument for cutting men loose, but if I could work up a strong physical reaction to women, I would already be having sex with them. I'm not knocking it. I'm just saying I can't be a witness. Too many titties in one place to suit me."

Ada has spent the last 10 years living in Atlanta. When she discovers she's infected, she sells her hairdressing business and heads back to her childhood home of Idlewild, Michigan, to spend the summer with her recently widowed sister before moving on to San Francisco. Once there, however, she finds herself embroiled in big-city problems--drugs, violence, teen pregnancy, and an abandoned crack-addicted baby, to name just a few--in a small-town setting. Ava also meets Eddie Jefferson, a man with a past who just might change her mind about the imprudence of falling in love.

In less assured hands, such a catalog of disasters would make for maudlin, melodramatic reading indeed. But Cleage, an accomplished playwright, has a way both with characters and with language that lifts this tale above its movie-of-the-week tendencies. In Ava she has created a character who not only effortlessly carries the weight of the story but also provides entertaining commentary on African American life as she goes. Discussing the insular nature of the black community in Atlanta, she recalls, "I'd walk into a reception room and there'd be a room full of brothers, power-brokering their asses off, and I'd realize I'd seen them all naked. I'd watch them striding around, talking to each other in those phony-ass voices men use when they want to make it clear they got juice, and it was so depressing, all I'd want to do was go home and get drunk." Later, she describes the preacher's wife's hair as "pressed and hot-curled within an inch of its life.... Hardly anybody asks for that kind of hard press anymore. Sister seems to have missed the moment when we decided it was okay for the hair to move."

As the trials and tribulations pile on, the experiences of Cleage's characters prove to be universal: death, love, second chances. Ava's acerbic, smart-mouthed narrative keeps the story buoyant; by the time this endearingly imperfect heroine and her cohorts have negotiated the rocky road to a happy ending, readers will be sorry to see her go, even as they wish her well. --Alix Wilber

From Library Journal

In her first novel, Cleage, a playwright and essayist, focuses on an HIV-positive woman who seeks solace and refuge for the summer in her hometown with her widowed sister.
Copyright 1997 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

Product Details

  • Paperback: 256 pages
  • Publisher: HarperPB (November 1, 1998)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 038079487X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0380794874
  • Product Dimensions: 8.4 x 4.9 x 0.6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 6.4 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (510 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,025,908 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Paperback
I like this one the best. I know the blurb doesn't sound like much ... An African-American woman diagnosed with HIV goes home to visit big sister. Boy, do I have to tell you ... ignore the blurb and just dive into the book. This is one of the best reads I've read this year. It's not depressing at all ... it's the fighting spirit book that just keeps you upbeat. I remember telling my husband about this book and now, he's interested in reading it someday (after my mom reads it!).
Ava Johnson comes home to Michigan after living in Atlanta for 10 years or so ~~ this was just going to be a short stop on the way to San Francisco where she is determined to find a new life. Only, that plan falls to the wayside. Ava's older sister, Joyce is a warm-hearted woman struggling to find ways to educate young African-American girls about birth control, fight against her church's narrow-minded pastor and his wife who are out to stop anything that is not "Christian-like". And along the way, they rescue a crack baby, Imani and Ava falls in love with Eddie, an old friend of Joyce and her husband.
This is such a rivetting read. One that I highly recommend to everyone. It is written with brutal truth and humor ... and you find yourself rooting for Ava and her family as they set out to conquer the small corner of their world. It's wonderfully written to keep your interest snared ... and I am looking forward to read more of this author's work. This is not your typical depressing Oprah pick ... it's one of the best, uplifting book I've read in a long time!!
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Format: Paperback
This is probably the only book I can remember ever reading that impressed me so much. This book paces itself so well, you almost seem to find a steady rhythm to it.
The story itself is truly reviting, but the author's ability take the reader by the hand and just lead them one step at a time through the story is absolutely incredible. I've never had any author do that to me before. Usually, you're so wrapped up in the plot and charaters and who did what, you speed through the book and finish it before you can catch your breath. Not with this book.
You follow the life of the main character, Ava Johnson, and all those whose lives touch hers and you feel yourself wanting the best for all of them. Yet you never feel the need to peek into the next chapter or "accidentally" glance at the last page of the book.
Pearl Cleage has moved to the top of my favorite author list and will be praised to anyone who will listen. I can't recomment this book enough!
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Format: Paperback
As a 24-year old upper-middle class white girl, I wasn't sure I would enjoy and/or relate to this story of a 30-something black woman with HIV returning home to her increasingly troubled mostly-black hometown.
Boy, was I wrong.
This story was funny, touching, uplifting and downright inspiring. The author's main character, Ava Johnson, is a lot like me - she's discovering real love, struggling to find answers about her purpose, searching for spirituality, reconnecting with her family and hometown, and forging a new path in life.
Right up there with "The Girls' Guide to Hunting and Fishing" this book is a must-read for a woman, regardless of where she is on her path to self-discovery.
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Format: Paperback
I absolutely loved this book. Started it last night and finished this evening. Ava Johnson, HIV positive, comes home on a pit stop and becomes involved in her sister's life of helping young black women -- most teenage mothers. Uplifting, hopeful. Anyone who suggests this book is a waste of time or predictable is wrong! Yes, there are hints here and there of what is to come but the author's style and perspective makes you want to continue until the very end. Fortunately, the HIV positive diagnosis does not overwhelm the story. Rather, it makes you feel more alive and aware that we cannot waste our time on this earth. The characters, Ava and Eddie, give testimony to the fact that people can grow, learn and change through difficult situations -- HIV, Viet Nam. Joyce's character shows that there can be life after losing a wonderful partner. Absolutely worth every minute of my time.
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Format: Paperback
I loved this book from the moment I started reading it. The story is about Ava, an African American woman who moves from Atlanta back to her hometown of Idlewild, Michigan after finding out that she is HIV positive. Her visit to Idlewild is supposed to be just a stopover on her trip to San Francisco, where she expects to find a female lover (for the first time) and acceptance of her HIV status. Instead, she finds comfort in the warm, snuggly love of her big sister Joyce. She finds hope and purpose in the work that Joyce is doing to save the youth in Idlewild from the spiraling existence of drugs, pregnancy, welfare, and violence. But best of all, she finds true love.
Pearl Cleage writes in a very efficient, yet effective style, conveying in a few words what lesser writers struggle to convey in whole paragraphs. Her ability to create an atmosphere of comfort, lush sensuality, or stark horror is remarkable. She writes with wit and honesty, even when describing the pain so often found in life. She perfectly captures the essence of her characters and the roller-coaster of emotion that they experience in the story. I truly cared about these people, so that in the end I cried tears of sadness, outrage, and happiness, all in the space of an hour! I can't wait to tell my friends about this gift of a book.
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