Summary and book reviews of What You Owe Me by Bebe Moore Campbell

What You Owe Me

by Bebe Moore Campbell

What You Owe Me by Bebe Moore Campbell X
What You Owe Me by Bebe Moore Campbell
  • Critics' Opinion:

    Readers' Opinion:

  • First Published:
    Aug 2001, 496 pages
    Paperback:
    Sep 2002, 528 pages

    Genres

  • Rate this book


Buy This Book

About this Book

Book Summary

A stunning account of the changes in white attitudes toward blacks during the second half of the 20th century and a sensitive look at what betrayal--of friendship and of love--does to us all. Ultimately, this is a moving book about healing.

Los Angeles, l945: When Hosanna Clark, newly arrived from the farm fields of Texas, befriends Holocaust survivor Gilda Rosenstein, she opens the door to a new life for them both. Using Gilda's knowledge of cosmetics and Hosanna's energy and determination, they begin producing a line of lipsticks and lotions for black women. The two are more than partners: They are dear friends.

Then Gilda suddenly disappears, taking all the assets. Hosanna is doubly betrayed: financially ruined and emotionally bereft. When, years later, she passes away, her small cosmetics company dies with her. But Hosanna leaves behind a daughter steeped in her mother's pain: Matriece is as smart and driven as her mother and savvy enough to recognize that white firms are competing not only for black consumer dollars but for black professional talent as well. When Gilda's huge cosmetics conglomerate hires her to launch a line of black beauty products, Matriece takes on a mission to collect her mother's debt.

What You Owe Me is a stunning account of the changes we have seen in white attitudes toward blacks, but it is also a sensitive look at what betrayal--of friendship, of love--does to us all. Ultimately, it is a moving book about healing. As Emerge magazine acknowledged, "Campbell's writings are a beacon of light, helping assuage the anger by tending our deepest wounds."

Chapter One

I was looking at myself in a tarnished mirror taped to a crooked wall. I leaned my head left of the crack that split the glass and squinted my eyes to get a better view. Made me dizzy. My shift was about to start, and I was rushing to put on lipstick. The light in the room was so dim I could barely make out my mouth. The shade was too pale, but I made do and blotted on a piece of toilet paper. The door opened just as I was imagining my face with thinner lips. I turned around, and that’s when I saw her, not big as a banty hen. Mr. Weinstock was right behind. "Hosanna," he said to me, "this is Gilda Rosenstein, and she’ll be working with you. I want you to train her."

There were five of us women cleaning at the Braddock Hotel, all colored. It was right after Labor Day, and we’d finished having our get-started cup of coffee (as compared to our keep-going cup in the afternoon and our hold-on cup toward the end of our day) in a small dark room in the ...

Please be aware that this discussion guide may contain spoilers!
  1. 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?

  2. 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?

  3. How does Mooney make Hosanna aware of her beauty? What else does she learn from Mooney that she uses later in life?

  4. 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 ...
Membership Advantages
  • Reviews
  • "Beyond the Book" articles
  • Free books to read and review (US only)
  • Find books by time period, setting & theme
  • Read-alike suggestions by book and author
  • Book club discussions
  • and much more!
  • Just $12 for 3 months or $39 for a year.
  • More about membership!

Reviews

Media Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Campbell's detailed treatment of each (sub plot) accounts for the book's length, but all are credibly tied to the central tale...reminiscent of Campbell's 1994 Brothers and Sisters and is positioned to perform just as strongly.

Reader Reviews

Praise for 'What you Owe Me'

The book is absolutely wonderful! Bebe Moore Campbell is once again at her best. A prolific author who entangles readers into another world, and has them emerging with a sense of completeness and new knowledge of life's important lessons.
-M. ...   Read More

D. L. Raskin

This book is on my shelf next to Beach Music. The author is the best I have read in years. The lines that twisted and braided through the characters, their unique places in this life and on their ancestral chains create a beauty product for all, ...   Read More

Debi

Well-written story that runs across generations and cultural boundaries.

GMack

I thought the book was pretty good.

Write your own review!

Membership Advantages
  • Reviews
  • "Beyond the Book" articles
  • Free books to read and review (US only)
  • Find books by time period, setting & theme
  • Read-alike suggestions by book and author
  • Book club discussions
  • and much more!
  • Just $12 for 3 months or $39 for a year.
  • More about membership!

Readalikes

Readalikes Full readalike results are for members only

More books by Bebe Moore Campbell

If you liked What You Owe Me, try these:

  • The Vanishing Half jacket

    The Vanishing Half

    by Brit Bennett

    Published 2020

    About this book

    More books by this author

    From the New York Times-bestselling author of The Mothers, a stunning new novel about twin sisters, inseparable as children, who ultimately choose to live in two very different worlds, one black and one white.

  • The Beautiful Things That Heaven Bears jacket

    The Beautiful Things That Heaven Bears

    by Dinaw Mengestu

    Published 2008

    About this book

    More books by this author

    A haunting and powerful first novel that views the streets of Washington, D.C. and Addis Ababa through the eyes of Sepha who, seventeen years ago, fled Ethiopia during the Revolution, and now runs a failing convenience store in a poor African-American neighborhood in Washington. Published as The Beautiful Thing That Heaven Bears in the USA, ...

Non-members are limited to two results. Become a member
Search Readalikes again
How we choose readalikes
Membership Advantages
  • Reviews
  • "Beyond the Book" articles
  • Free books to read and review (US only)
  • Find books by time period, setting & theme
  • Read-alike suggestions by book and author
  • Book club discussions
  • and much more!
  • Just $12 for 3 months or $39 for a year.
  • More about membership!

Join & Save $10!

Discover books that entertain, engage & enlighten. One-year membership: $29

Find out more


Today's Top Picks

  • Book Jacket: Truthtelling
    Truthtelling
    by Lynne Schwartz
    The word "unsayable" can mean something is too vast to be put into words. Alternatively, it can ...
  • Book Jacket: The Book Collectors
    The Book Collectors
    by Delphine Minoui
    About halfway through The Book Collectors, I was disappointed. I came into the book with a ...
  • Book Jacket: Blue Sky Kingdom
    Blue Sky Kingdom
    by Bruce Kirkby
    Who hasn't dreamed of escaping all of the trappings of today's modern life and finding a secluded, ...
  • Book Jacket: My Heart Underwater
    My Heart Underwater
    by Laurel Fantauzzo
    Corazon — Cory — Tagubio is a Filipina-American teenager living with her family in ...

Readers Recommend

  • Book Jacket

    The Smallest Lights in the Universe
    by Sara Seager

    A luminous memoir by an MIT astrophysicist who must reinvent herself in the wake of tragedy.

    Reader Reviews
Book Club Discussion
Book Jacket
The Exiles
by Christina Baker Kline
The author of Orphan Train returns with an ambitious, emotionally resonant historical novel.
Win This Book!
Win Jack

Return to Gilead with Jack, the instant New York Times bestseller

Enter to win Marilynne Robinson's latest novel in her classic series.

Enter

Wordplay

Solve this clue:

I G I O Ear A O T O

and be entered to win..

Books that     
entertain,
     engage

 & enlighten

Visitors can view some of BookBrowse for free. Full access is for members only.

Join Today!

Your guide toexceptional          books

BookBrowse seeks out and recommends the best in contemporary fiction and nonfiction—books that not only engage and entertain but also deepen our understanding of ourselves and the world around us.