At fourteen, China Cameron is trying hard to be a good mother to her two-year-old daughter, conceived while China and her best friend, Trip, were "fooling around" at his house one day. Trip and China's disabled Uncle--her only parent since the death of her mother and her father's early abandonment-do all they can to help her stay in school and parent well. But the child contracts a respiratory infection and dies, leaving China not only devastated, but responsible for a large funeral bill: she insists on ordering the most beautiful casket in the catalogue and funeral services that turn out to be devastatingly expensive. To pay the bill, against the advice of Trip and her uncle, China begins working at the reception desk of a local "gentlemen's club."

Though the job requires that she wear skimpy and revealing clothing, and subjects her to the unwelcome attentions of inebriated patrons, she squares it with her conscience by hanging onto the belief that she is doing the best she can for her daughter. The terms of her employment, however, become more difficult as she is moved toward "dancing" on stage. When she finally decides to quit, she finds that the club is partly owned by the funeral director, who has a history of involving young women in her situation in debilitating debt.

A subplot follows the misfortunes of China's best friend, Yolanda, a young women in her twenties with several children by different fathers who is trying to realign her life after her youngest children are taken temporarily to foster care. Despite their various difficulties, the characters enter with compassion and imagination into each other's lives, and find ways to help one another. At the end of the story, China finally consents to visit her daughter's grave--something she has strenuously avoided--nd concedes to the necessity of coming to terms in a new way with her loss so as to reorient her life beyond funeral expenses, and go back to school with a reclaimed hope of a different kind of life.


Much of the dialogue, filled with African-American and regional colloquialisms, may require a stretch for readers unfamiliar with the speech patterns, and certainly the hard incidents in various characters' life stories may be unsettling, if not shocking to young readers. But the characters' resilience, mutual loyalties, and practical intelligence are entirely convincing, and offer some reassurance that people do and can develop survival skills and retain capacities to love and heal even in stressful circumstances. The content would suggest an older teens-to-twenties audience. Valuable for the insights it offers into coping strategies of the working poor.


Simon & Schuster

Place Published

New York



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