Please be aware that this discussion guide may contain spoilers!
What You Owe Me opens with the long-since passed away Hosanna proclaiming her unabated anger toward Gilda. She is "depending on Matriece to make things right." Is it unreasonable for Hosanna to use Matriece to settle her score with Gilda?
Gilda and Hosanna have both been discriminated against because of race. Aside from ethnicity, how are they different? How does race work for Gilda and Hosanna, respectively?
How does Mooney make Hosanna aware of her beauty? What else does she learn from Mooney that she uses later in life?
In the beginning of the novel, Montgomery tells Matriece that he is content with what his father has bestowed upon him. How does his attitude change by the end of the novel? What are the catalysts for this change?
Staying true to one's roots is a concern that haunts the characters of What You Owe Me. How does this issue inform the relationship between Asia and Matriece? What role does race play in Matriece and Blair's friendship? How does it divide the two?
Guilt is an important theme in the novel. How is the "survivor's guilt" that haunts Gilda similar to the guilt that causes Matriece to have visions of her mother?
Gilda is not the only character dealing with the legacy of the past. How does Sam attempt to forge a new life for himself after prison? Were you surprised when his relation to Asia was revealed? Does their new relationship suggest the possibility for reconciliation between Matriece and Gilda, and as a result, Hosanna and Gilda?
What You Owe Me brings up some interesting points about the definition of success. For example, Blair has a huge house but a dysfunctional family inhabits it, Matriece runs a company at 38 but is perpetually single, and Vonette has nurtured a tight-knit family but lacks professional accomplishment. Is any one of these women more successful than another? Why or why not?
Given Blair's close personal connection to Tavares's family, do you find it surprising that she would let Tavares get punished for false drug charges just to protect her own obviously guilty son? Is it wrong of her to put family over friends in this way? Do you think Bebe Moore Campbell implies that for whites, the integrity of the family unit takes precedence over cross-racial friendships? Or does this thesis crumble when Blair and Matriece eventually make amends?
Gilda and Hosanna know about the power of a positive self-image. To what extent do they believe that women who feel beautiful will be happier people? How does the evolution of Brown Sugar coincide with an evolution in the way blacks are seen by both whites and blacks? Why is it revolutionary for Hosanna to set out to show black women that they are beautiful according to their own standards?
Do you think that by selling the company to Matriece, Gilda finally settled her debt to Hosanna?
Ubiquitous in What You Owe Me are characters who resent their fathers for being absent in their formative years. How does this issue transcend race? How do the characters involved reconcile their differences with their fathers?
In addition to the image of blacks changing over the course of the novel, they have also moved from the blue-collar workers to the growing middle class. Using Matriece and Hosanna as examples, discuss how in the past 50 years, a rising number of blacks have transformed from members of the working class into an economic force to be catered to and sought out as employees.
Unless otherwise stated, this discussion guide is reprinted with the permission of Berkley Books.
Any page references refer to a USA edition of the book, usually the trade paperback version, and may vary in other editions.
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