Gritty but loving portrait of an African-American family’s indestructible ties.
Diagnosed with breast cancer, light-skinned, 30-year-old Camilla has to undergo a double mastectomy. When her doctor asks if there is a family history of cancer, she says no, but then—in chapters that form the heart of a story bracketed by her present experiences—begins recollecting the past she worked so carefully to escape. Though Camilla is now married to wealthy Bryant, she grew up in a crowded Brooklyn tenement. Grandmother Velma, born in the South, moved north hoping to make a better life for herself. But she and husband Chuck ended up raising three of their two older unmarried children’s kids in their small apartment. Velma had higher hopes for her beautiful, clever youngest, until teenaged Audrey Rose fell for no-good Leroy, got pregnant, and married him. Soon Audrey was on drugs, shoplifting, and turning tricks; Velma wound up having to raise baby Camilla too. As Camilla mulls over the past, she also recalls a visit from an aunt who had undergone a mastectomy, but she doesn’t tell this to her doctor. Growing up watching her mother disappear for months at a time—into prison, drugs, or someone else’s home—Camilla determined to make a better life for herself that didn’t include her dysfunctional relatives. She left home to attend college on a scholarship, cut off all ties with her family, and passed herself off as a child of privilege whose parents had died in a skiing accident. Buying her story, Bryant’s affluent, light-skinned family and friends easily accepted Camilla. But cancer changes everything—especially when Bryant starts cheating on her.
Graphic details aside: an old-fashioned, there’s-no-place-like-home melodrama complete with affirming life lesson.