March 7, 2011

We Ain't the Brontes by Rosalyn McMillan

When I received my copy of this book in the mail I noticed that the author's address label showed a surname that had been crossed out, with "McMillan" handwritten in next to it. That innocent notation set the stage for my foray into the world of the Lavender (McMillan?) sisters.

Rosalyn McMillan, author of Knowing and The Flip Side of Sin, is the sister of Terry McMillan, author of How Stella Got Her Groove Back and Waiting to Exhale. Both sisters are well-known writers. I'd never read any of their books prior to this one, but had certainly heard of them. I was initially drawn to this book because the subject matter appealed to me, not because of the notoriety of the McMillans.

In We Ain't the Brontes, Charity (Rosalyn?) and Lynzee (Terry?) are both well known African American writers, but Lynzee has enjoyed somewhat more success than Charity. At the beginning of the book, Charity and Lynzee have a bitter fight over the right of both sisters to use their maiden last name professionally (the notation on the address label!). After this fight, Charity begins to find herself shut out of the publishing world, and she is desperate to find a publisher for her new book as she grows short on funds and is faced with losing her house. In the midst of this Lynzee drops a bombshell on her: years before, Lynzee had given birth to a baby by Charity's husband and given it (her) up for adoption. Now the child was grown and wanted to connect with her biological parents. Naturally this leads to severe difficulty in Charity's marriage. But then she is struck with a brilliant idea for a new book: a book about two sisters who are famous writers at odds with one another.

I have to admit, after reading the first few pages I was prepared to give a pretty scathing review. The first scene is rough, unfolds too quickly, and just doesn't seem realistic. It could have stood more detail, especially as the scenario -getting ready to attend the Essence awards as guests- is something I would have liked to get a better mental picture of. McMillan speeds through it, and the dialog seems forced. But after that things calm down a bit and begin to gel.

I really liked Charity, the main character. She struck me as a strong -yet flawed- woman with high self-esteem. She's driven and motivated and stands up for herself the way many women wish they could. At times I wanted to slap her, when she made bad decisions, but at the same time I could understand why she made them. As the book went on she became more and more multi-dimensional.

I do feel the writing was rough and at times cliched, but overall it sucked me in. There are many writers who may write better than McMillan, but can't keep a reader interested. The writing is catchy and upbeat, and you can really hear McMillan's voice. There were a couple of other things I thought were a little too easy; the characters seemed to have a much easier time coming out with difficult revelations than most people would have. It struck me as odd that the characters were real potty mouths yet professed strong Christian faith. And that these strong Christian women think nothing of dropping thousands of dollars on expensive clothing, yet the only time charity is mentioned is when there is excess food at a party and Charity donates the leftovers. At the same time, it is rather realistic. In fact, if Charity had spent every spare moment in a soup kitchen she probably would have annoyed me to no end.

There are a few scenes that seem extraneous, like one in which Charity survives a plane crash and breaks her leg, a momentous event that has no bearing on the rest of the story. And the main plot of the book concludes well before the book ends, and then subplot finishes it off, which just doesn't fit the normal flow of a novel. Yet real life doesn't tie off so neatly either.

Beyond the essential storyline, I had a growing awareness that the book must be at least partly biographical, and I frequently put the book down to Google one tidbit or another. In addition to the issue of the last name (of course I have no way of knowing if this was ever a point of contention between the McMillans), I found two other things that pointed to this possibility. It was difficult to find much biographical detail on either sister; most seemed to focus on Terry McMillan's famously publicized divorce. I did find a paragraph about their childhood that paralleled that of the Lavender sisters in Brontes: a father that died young, a mother working several jobs to support the family, the elder sister caring for the younger. Also in a critical review I found of one of Rosalyn McMillan's earlier novels, she had flubbed a scene in which her characters entered the same room twice. In Brontes, Charity sends a manuscript to a book doctor in an attempt to make it more appealing to reluctant publishers. In fact the book doctor makes it worse, inserting a scene in which the main character leaves her home twice. Coincidence?

Overall I enjoyed this book very much. Rosalyn McMillan is not a perfect writer, but she is passionate and creative. I'd rather read a flawed work of passion than a perfect work of boredom. I read it in a couple of hours because I just couldn't put it down. And I'd love to know if any of it is true!

I received a free copy of this book for the purpose of review, no other compensation. Click on the image above for a short video about the book.


  1. Thank you for participating in the We Ain't the Brontes blog tour. Your review and time is very appreciated.

    Have a Blessed weekend!

  2. Great review! The author addressed the issue of how much of it is true in her interview with Shelia Lipsey:
    I was also part of the tour and though not perfect, I also felt the book was quite real for the most part and the characters flawed.

  3. Thanks Folake, I will definitely look at that!


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