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

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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 ...
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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.

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