The bonds of friendship
The first thing the reader learns in Virginia DeBerry and Donna Grant's engaging new novel, Better Than I Know Myself, is that one of a trio of friends is dead. We don't know which one it is. It's a clever hook to get us to read on, but we quickly become absorbed in the lives of these three complex and talented young women who meet at Barnard College in 1981. They couldn't be more different: Jewell is an actress who became famous playing, Janet Jackson-like, a cute little girl in a sitcom; Carmen, abandoned by her parents and betrayed by her sociopath of a brother, is homeless when she first meets the other girls; and spoiled, irresponsible Regina is resentful of her well-to-do parents. After bonding over Twizzlers in a stalled elevator, the girls develop a friendship that sees them through career reversals, busted relationships and illness. Men good, bad or indifferent are always peripheral to the central, unbreakable sisterhood. DeBerry and Grant let humor bubble up even in the direst of situations. "I look like Yoda in a do-rag," laments one of the characters during a bout of chemo-induced baldness. Yes, it's chick lit, but it's summer after all: the right time to spend an afternoon with this enjoyable and occasionally insightful book.