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What Looks Like Crazy on an Ordinary Day [Hardcover]

Pearl Cleage
4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (395 customer reviews)

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Book Description

Dec 1 1997 Oprah's Book Club

Acclaimed Playwright, essayist and columnist Pearl Cleage breaks new ground in African American women's literature--with a debut novel that sings and crackles with life-affirming energy as it moves the reader to laughter and tears.

As a girl growing up in Idlewild, Michigan, Ava Johnson had always heard that, if you were young, black, and had any sense at all, Atlanta was the place to be. So as soon as she was old enough and able enough, that was where she went--parlaying her smarts and her ambition into one of the hottest hair salons in town. In no time, she was moving with the brothers and sisters who had beautiful clothes, big cars, bigger dreams, and money in the bank.

Now, after more than a decade of elegant pleasures and luxe living, Ava has come home, her fabulous career and power plans smashed to bits on one dark truth. Ava Johnson has tested positive for HIV. And she's back in little Idlewild to spend a quiet summer with her widowed sister, Joyce, before moving on to finish her life in San Francisco, the most HIV-friendly place she can imagine.

But what she thinks is the end is only the beginning because there's too much going down in her hometown for Ava to ignore. There's the Sewing Circus--sister Joyce's determined effort to educate Idlewild's young black women about sex, drugs, pregnancy, whatever. . .despite the interference of the good Reverend Anderson and his most virtuous, "Just say no" wife. Plus Joyce needs a helping hand to make a loving home for Imani, an abandoned crack baby whom she's taken into her heart.

And then there's Wild Eddie, whose legendary background in violence combined with his Eastern gentility has stirred Ava's interest. . .and something more.

In the ten-plus years since Ava left, all the problems of the big city--drugs, crime, disease have come home to roost in the sleepy North Michigan community whose ordinariness once drove her away. Now she cannot turn her back on friends and family who sorely need her in the face of impending trouble and tragedy. Things are getting very interesting in Idlewild these days. Besides which, the unthinkable thing has started happening: Ava Johnson is failing in love.

A remarkable novel sizzling with sensuality, rollicking with wild humor, and humming with gritty truth, in What Looks Like Crazy on an Ordinary Day. . .Pearl Cleage has created a world rich in character, human drama, and deep, compassionate understanding.

As a girl growing up in Idlewild, Michigan, Ava Johnson had always heard that, if you were young, black, and had any sense at all, Atlanta was the place to be. So as soon as she was old enough and able enough, that was where she went--parlaying her smarts and her ambition into one of the hottest hair salons in town. In no time, she was moving with the brothers and sisters who had beautiful clothes, big cars, bigger dreams, and money in the bank.

Now, after more than a decade of elegant pleasures and luxe living, Ava has come home, her fabulous career and power plans smashed to bits on one dark truth. Ava Johnson has tested positive for HIV. And she's back in little Idlewild to spend a quiet summer with her widowed sister, Joyce, before moving on to finish her life in San Francisco, the most HIV-friendly place she can imagine.

And then there's Wild Eddie, whose legendary back ground in violence combined with his Eastern gentility has stirred Ava's interest...and something more.

In the ten-plus years since Ava left all the problems of the big city--drugs, crime, disease--have come home to roost in the sleepy North Michigan community whose ordinariness once drove her away. Now she cannot turn her back on friends and family who sorely need her in the face of impending trouble and tragedy. Things are getting very interesting in Idlewild these days. Besides which, the unthinkable thing has started happening: Ava Johnson is falling in love.


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From Amazon

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 --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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.

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i'm sitting at the bar in the airport, minding my own business, trying to get psyched up for my flight, and I made the mistake of listening to one of those TV talk shows. Read the first page
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Customer Reviews

Most helpful customer reviews
4.0 out of 5 stars What looks like crazy.... March 15 2004
Format:Paperback
This novel is about a woman {Ava Johnson} dealing with the fact that she has HIV and her promiscuous pass that lead to her having gotten it in the first place. Cleage also writes about Ava's day-to-day journey of living with this disease and the prejudices and the ignorance of people. I'm talking about those folks that don't know how HIV is transmitted, so they make things up as they go. Ava returns to her hometown of Idelwild, Michigan seemly just for a visit to her sister on her way though to San Francisco. Where she was determined to make a new life for her self... Idelwild is not the small country town she remembers. Not only did things change but they have changed for the worse. Drugs, break-ins, teenage pregnancy and other gang related incidences seem to be the normal occurrence now.
Secondary plot revolves around Ava's sister Joyce. Joyce is on a mission to spread the word and educate teenage girls and young woman all over about the importance of safe sex, self-love and self-respect. Joyce, a single woman, has decided to adopt a child. Having lost her husband and two children by tragic means. This child is special and the adoption is not so easy, as you will come to see the more you read into the novel. You will get more than a few twists and turns in this novel folks... Very good read, I promise...
Ave is also fortunate enough to have found true love with a man {Eddie} while in Idelwild. Eddie too has had to dealt with the skeletons in his own closet and came out on the other end of life just fine... Eddie helps Ave realize that just because she has this terrible disease that life without true love isn't necessary.
My first taste of Pearl Cleage. I must say I am very impressed with this author style of writing.
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3.0 out of 5 stars Telling It Like It Is Nov. 10 2003
Format:Paperback
Pearl Cleage offers a very realistic yet hard look into the life of an HIV positive black woman.
Ava Johnson leaves her big city Atlanta life and heads to her hometown to spend the summer with her widowed sister to gain some peace and relaxation while she battles with HIV. However, once Ava arrives she realizes that her small childhood hometown has its fair share of problems which Ava finds herself smack dab in the middle of. Ava's sister's determination to do good in the community fuels Ava to stay on and tackle the town's growing problems of crack addiction, teenage pregnancy and violence. Also, for the first time in Ava's life she has found love.
The voice and the guts the author gave this story was very enjoyable. However, some of the characters seemed a little too created with Eddie being way too perfect and the reverend's wife being way too conniving. All in all this was an enjoyable book but just a little rough on the edges. Like life, enjoyable but with a few rough edges which is what I think the author was trying to portray....real life.
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Format:Paperback
An unforeseen diagnosis sends Ava Johnson into a tailspin and the high-powered lifestyle she's built for herself in Atlanta falls apart. She decides: it is time to move. Setting her heart on San Francisco, she's makes a pit-stop in her old home town, sleepy Idlewild, Michigan.
An alluring all-Black resort town in its heyday, Idlewild lost its summer residents to integration. In the ensuing unemployment and poverty, Idlewild has succumbed to so-called "big-city" problems like drugs and violence.
Ava rejoins her sister Joyce, who settled in Idlewild. Joyce is a storehouse of nonstop energy that she devotes to the community through her group, The Sewing Circus, offering support and education for the teenaged mothers of her church.
What begins as a stopover for Ava quickly grows into something much more. Before long she is intimately drawn into Joyce's work. As a string of violent events builds to a crescendo, the mystery of who's behind them and their strange connection to the pastor and his wife culminate in a climax that had me holding my breath and turning pages as fast as my fingers could fly.
Interweaved through all this drama, Ava re-meets an old friend, Eddie Jefferson, and the sparks fly, just when she's given up on love. But Eddie has some dark secrets of his own...

I love this book. Pearl Cleage so skillfully weaves suspense and romance, street-wisdom and compassion, humor and poignancy in this book, I read like it was going out of style. I could hear her playwriting experience in the sharp dialogue and characters' thoughts. What made this book for me were the characters. We get to grow with Ava as the book progresses. Joyce's and Eddie's characters have a complexity and depth that make them real.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Great listening Aug. 4 2002
Format:Audio Cassette
"What Looks Like Crazy on an Ordinary Day" wasn't the story I expected from reading the package blurb; it was better. I checked it out of the library because it looked like it might be a decent listen while I went about my daily activities. Usually I find modern novels disappointing, but this one hooked me and kept me interested from the start.
The story is told in the first person by Ava, whose hair salon begins to fail after she is "outed" as HIV+ and nervous customers stop coming. She sells the salon with the intention of moving across the country to San Francisco. What happens when she drops in to visit her sister Joyce, a community activist, in a small Michigan town before making her big move is the substance of the book.
The dialogue and many aspects of the characters rang true, which is one of the great pleasures of a novel for me. Okay, Eddie may be a bit too wonderful to be real and the reverend's wife perhaps a bit too evil. And there were a couple of situations where it seemed that in order to advance the story Cleage didn't let the characters think of obvious solutions to their dilemmas (leaving me to mentally yell at them things like "Call the police!", but that didn't greatly detract from my enjoyment. Some of the action is horrifying to hear, but not in a horror-story way; more like a shake-your-head way -- at things you know people actually do.
My main criterion for evaluation a book is how much I enjoyed it and whether I want to hear something else from this author. Since I was sorry to come to the end of the tape, I give this five stars.
Ironically, it was only after I had almost finished listening that I realized (from reading the box) that I was hearing an abridged version of the novel. The abridgement was not at all obvious to me, so I think it was well done, but of course I wish there had been more story to listen to.
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4.0 out of 5 stars Sister No Matter What the price........
Ava and Joyce this a pair that I won't forget. This book has many twist and turns because one the sisters had to endure alot of issues such as losing their parents at an early age,... Read more
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5.0 out of 5 stars Great!
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5.0 out of 5 stars Loved it - what more can I say?
AMAZING book, just amazing! I loved this book so much , just can't recommend it highly enough. It's one of those books you will never regret owning. Read more
Published on Feb. 16 2004
4.0 out of 5 stars 3-1/2 Stars, Rounded Up
I listened to the audio version of this book, which is undoubtedly a much different experience than reading the book. Read more
Published on Nov. 24 2003 by Liora Hess
4.0 out of 5 stars Crazy Day easy Read
This was a very easy read a page-turner, I enjoyed all of the characters and the story as a whole, and I would definitely recommend this book.
Published on Nov. 24 2003 by msniac
4.0 out of 5 stars Very Good Read !!
Major props to Ms. Cleage. Very gifted writer. This is a first for me and it was a page turner. I enjoyed the characters and the education about being HIV positive. Read more
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Although this book was a pretty easy read, I was impressed that the characters seemed so real. The subject of HIV is one most people do not want to even broach. Read more
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