Better Than I Know Myself

Better Than I Know Myself

Audio CD(Unabridged, 12 CDs, 15 hrs. 30 min.)

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Overview

The beloved #1 Essence bestselling authors of Tryin' to Sleep in the Bed You Made now deliver a novel in which you'll meet their most unforgettable characters yet. Carmen, Jewel, and Regina could not be more different. When they meet as freshmen at Columbia University, they're pretty confident that a friendship among them isn't in the cards.

Jewel is Hollywood royalty: as the teenage star of the TV show "Daddy's Girl," her face is instantly recognizable all across America. Now, though, she wants two things-to get a serious education, and to leave her controlling stage mother behind. Regina is the definitive upper-middle-class African-American girl. Her picture-perfect parents are what she calls "black Ward and June Cleavers" and their goals for her are like a stranglehold. No one can see, though, how far Regina's rebellious side will take her (or how treacherous it will become). Carmen is just trying to get by. A child of the projects whose father is dead and whose mother has vanished, Carmen has been raised by her abusive brother. Columbia is the way for her to get a better life-if she can hold down two jobs and keep her GPA up.

When the three of them meet, their lives are at a crossroad. And as the years progress, from the 1980s to the present day, they are challenged by drug addiction, fame, secrets from the past, sickness, betrayal, and the darkest things women can face. One of them won't survive. But what will be the lasting legacy of their friendship? Better Than I Know Myself is a novel of heartache, triumph, tears, and the unshakeable bonds among women.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780786185900
Publisher: Blackstone Audio, Inc.
Publication date: 09/28/2004
Edition description: Unabridged, 12 CDs, 15 hrs. 30 min.
Product dimensions: 4.92(w) x 5.70(h) x 2.95(d)

About the Author

Virginia DeBerry and Donna Grant are the bestselling authors of Far From the Tree and Tryin' to Sleep in the Bed You Made, which won the Merit Award for fiction from the black caucus of the American Library Association, the Book of the Year award from Blackboard, and the New Author of the Year Award from the Go On Girl Book Club. Virginia and Donna first met while working as models, and what should have been a rivalry ended up a decades-long friendship. Virginia lives in New Jersey, and Donna lives in Brooklyn, New York, with her husband.

Read an Excerpt

CHAPTER 1

"I Made It."

April 15, 1981 Brooklyn, NY

I wish they'd all go to hell. Carmen felt the throbbing bass of her brother's stereo vibrate the steel fire door as she shoved her key in the last of four locks.

"How you gon' throw that card down? You's about a dumb mother —"

"Shut ya ass and pass the cheeba."

She knew Z and some of the fools he hung with were in there, playing pinochle or dirty hearts, eating greasy egg rolls and pork fried rice. That's why she went to the library every day after school, stayed there studying until it closed. She was never in a hurry to get home.

Carmen slipped into the dark hall, eased the door shut. Her stomach did its usual flip-flop, bracing for the crap that would greet her. A cloud of menthol and marijuana smoke hung in the air, stung her nose and eyes. She ducked into her room, eased the overstuffed backpack onto her beat-up desk and rubbed her shoulders. She hauled a big load of books, especially for someone her size. From the first day her parents brought her home her father called her Li'l Bit. At seventeen she still shopped for jeans and shirts in the children's department, and sometimes had to speak twice as loud to keep from getting stepped on.

Carmen's stomach growled, reminding her she hadn't eaten since the jelly doughnut and bottle of orange-flavored quarter water she grabbed for lunch. If I can just get the mail and some Spaghetti-O's it'll be fine.

Well, not exactly fine. Carmen Webb's life hadn't been fine for as long as she could remember. Two weeks before she started kindergarten her dad bought her that pine desk and painted it glossy white, so she'd have a place to study, he said. So she could get good grades and go to college. "You get to college Li'l Bit, you got it made," he said. Two weeks later police found Zachariah Webb Sr. near Lincoln Terrace Park, slumped over the steering wheel of his gypsy cab, killed for defending a grand total of twenty-three dollars in fares. Her mother, Geraldine, took to her bed, Z, a teenager by then, declared himself man of the house and Carmen learned to fend for herself.

And by the time she was ten, her mother was gone too. Carmen was ready for school that May morning. She came into the kitchen and found that Geraldine had pulled every jar, can and box out of the kitchen cabinets. Leopard-print nightgown stuffed into awning-striped bell bottoms, Geraldine balanced, one foot on the windowsill, the other on the edge of the sink, and scrubbed the shelves to the rhythm of a song she sang to herself.

"You're gonna fall," Carmen had said.

"Am not." Geraldine hopped down, light as a cat. "Can I get a hug from my Love Bug?" she'd asked and Carmen gave her a big one, even though she felt a little old for the "Love Bug" stuff. "I love you, Mommy." Then she was out the door, glad to see Geraldine so full of energy. Sometimes she sat in the dark, staring at the TV like a zombie for days, even weeks.

Geraldine wasn't around when Carmen got home, but she was glad her mother had gone out. That really meant she was in a good mood, one that might last for a while, except she didn't make it home that night, or the next. By the end of the week the rash that always broke out on Carmen's neck when she was worried itched like fire. She tried not to scratch, and to convince herself it would be all right; Geraldine had wandered off before. Sooner or later she'd show up wearing strange clothes and talking like she'd seen you just yesterday. The first time it happened Z had called the police, but then a social worker came and took Carmen away. Geraldine was back in a few days, but there was a court hearing and a lot of trouble before Carmen could come home. So they stopped calling when Geraldine disappeared on one of her walks, but this time six weeks passed without a sighting.

Carmen did her best to act normal in school, but she was scared. Her mother was flighty and confusing, but Carmen missed her chirpy voice, her good-night kisses, even her bad cooking. Besides, her father was gone; Geraldine was all she had.

One night Z appeared in her doorway, caught her sobbing into her pillow. "Look, I ain't your mama or your daddy. You need to stop that cryin' shit or I'ma call that social worker and have her carry your ass outta here." Z's tone turned Carmen's tears to dust — she knew he meant it. Once, when she was four and he was twelve, she drew a duck in yellow crayon on his basketball. He shook her until she got dizzy and threw up, and from that moment Carmen understood that her presence was not part of his program. And if he was blood, she figured strangers had to be worse, so she learned to keep out of his way.

After a year Geraldine still hadn't returned, and little by little Carmen gave up expecting her to unlock the door.

For the last six years Z had taken the Social Security check Carmen received every month toward her share of the rent. He drove a truck part time for a meat packing plant, and on the side he fenced hot steaks, or worked one of his other hustles — driving carloads of untaxed cigarettes up from North Carolina, stripping copper and aluminum from abandoned buildings — Carmen didn't stick her nose into the details. He managed to keep the lights on most of the time and gave her an allowance for food, toothpaste, personal stuff.

And since Carmen had no intention of following in her brother's footsteps, she concentrated on her grades. As far as her schools were concerned, Geraldine Webb still lived on Montgomery Street, so Carmen signed her mother's name on report cards and other official documents. She wasn't a problem kid, so nobody questioned it. Carmen kept classmates and teachers at a distance — less to explain that way. She excelled at her studies, always guided by her father's dream of college for her. He had died trying to make it come true.

It must have come today. Carmen peeled out of her peacoat. If I just ask him for the mail and go about my business what can he say? Most of the time Z got to the box before she did and usually it didn't matter. Nobody sent her birthday greetings or postcards from their vacations, but there was one letter she was waiting for.

"Oooh-wee! I'ma have to take you sucker's money again!"

"Nigga act like he can play some cards 'cause he got lucky."

By the end of a night with Z's posse in the house, Carmen always felt beat down and bruised, but they weren't going anywhere so she adopted her battle-ready stance and marched to the living room. "Hey."

At first they didn't hear her over the music, then Z saw her. "Whatchu lookin' at?" He was taller than Carmen, but just as slight, wiry. They were both the brown of spicy mustard, but where Carmen's big eyes looked sad behind the hard-edge she put on, Z's pierced you like a street-corner challenge.

"Nothin'." She crossed her arms over her chest, looked past him sitting at the card table in the middle of the room and let her gaze rest on the broken console TV stacked with stereo equipment. "Where's the mail?" She tried to sound like it didn't matter, tried not to scratch her neck.

"Shit, what difference it make?" Z's hair was already thin, and what was left he slicked back with the stocking cap he slept in. "You gon pay the bills?" His buddies laughed.

"I'm waitin' for somethin', all right?"

"Damn, ain't you heard all that college shit? You can't go to but one." Arm slung over the chair back, Z slouched in her direction, picked his tooth with a matchbook corner. "Look on top of the refrigerator."

That wasn't too bad. Carmen flipped on the kitchen light and held her breath as roaches scurried from counters, the stove and the sink full of dishes. She pulled one of the dingy yellow vinyl chairs from under the table and dragged it to the refrigerator, but before she could step up she heard the swish-swish of a nylon track suit and Randy was behind her.

"Can't reach that high Li'l Bit?" Grease from Randy's Jheri Curl had turned the collar of his jacket from red to a murky maroon.

It made her skin crawl when he called her what her daddy used to. "I'll get it myself." Carmen shoved the chair between them. She didn't feel safe with Randy in the same apartment, much less in the same room. Since that day in the elevator the sight of him made her want to vomit, but before she could stop him he grabbed the stack of mail.

"Here's the Mays sale paper, you want that?"

Carmen rolled her eyes.

He flipped through some other junk mail, then stopped. "Lookie here. Lookie here. A letter addressed to Miss Carmen Webb. This what you want?" He dangled it in her direction.

Carmen could see the pale blue crest at the top left corner. She reached for the envelope.

Randy snatched it away. "Must be important, huh?"

"No biggie." She leveled a bored look at him.

"So you don't want it?"

Carmen seethed inside, but she just shrugged.

Randy unzipped his jacket pocket, came up with a disposable lighter and flicked it. "So if I burnt it up you wouldn't care?" He held the envelope over the flame, grinning at her.

Don't beg. "I don't care what you do." Carmen's face hardened into a stony mask.

Randy eyed her and waved the envelope closer to the flame, but Carmen didn't budge. Then, one corner caught fire. "Ooops."

Fists balled at her sides, Carmen stared him down, didn't flinch as the creamy paper slowly blackened.

Finally Randy laughed, let it fall to the floor. "Damn, you one hard-headed bitch."

As soon as he turned away Carmen stomped on the envelope to put out the fire. She snatched it and headed for her room.

Door closed, Carmen sat on her bed, shaking. She'd already been accepted to Brooklyn College and Hunter, which her guidance counselor treated like some kind of miracle. But this was the wild card.

She'd never thought of going to Columbia until her chemistry teacher spent half a period gushing about his twenty-year college reunion. When she asked her counselor about applying he said Columbia didn't accept women. Barnard, their sister school did, "But I wouldn't encourage you to apply. You'll never be admitted." Carmen had scored higher on the SATs than anybody at her school in ten years, and she decided that if her science teacher had gone there, it couldn't be that hard to get in. She ate boxed macaroni and cheese and skipped lunch for two months to save enough for the application fee. She knew she'd need a ton of scholarship money, but if anybody fit the bill for a hardship handout, she did. She figured it was time for her to catch some kind of break.

As far as Z was concerned, college was a waste. "I been carrying you since I was nineteen. When the hell you gettin' up offa me?" he had asked.

Carmen didn't care what Z said, she was going, and to medical school after that. And when she became a doctor she'd work in a place that was antiseptically clean, live in a place where there were no roaches and no neighbors like Randy. People would respect her and she'd make enough money so she wouldn't need anybody — not ever again.

For the moment, Carmen's world narrowed to the contents of that one scorched envelope. She dusted off the burned flakes, gingerly opened the flap.

I made it! Carmen rolled onto her back, clutched the paper to her chest, thought of her dad. I'm on my way.

April 16, 1981 Franklin, NJ

"'There's a party goin' on right here. A celebration to last throughout the year.'" Regina sang and danced through the unlocked front door, letting it bang shut behind her. "How come it's so dark in here?" She ended her ode to Kool & the Gang, dropped her loose-leaf binder and shoulder bag on the flowered hall bench, flipped the light and checked the banister. No note so Mom's here somewhere, like I need to know where she is every freakin' minute of my life. Regina caught the savory aroma of dinner. Her world-famous lasagna again. Her mother had stopped teaching long before Regina came along, and was always there after school. Guess she can stop pretending to be mother of the year when I graduate.

Regina hit the living room light, yanked off her purple-and-gold school jacket and dumped it on the sofa. She checked her 'do in the mirror over the fireplace. "Foxy!" Then she fluffed the hair framing her face, satisfied she'd found the right setting lotion to keep it from drooping by third period. From kindergarten on Regina Foster was a ringleader. Hot-chocolate brown with sweet cheeks and a cute, round nose, her fast smile and eyes brimming with equal parts fun and mischief drew classmates to her and kept teachers from coming down too hard when she was a bit over the line.

Regina still wasn't used to how quiet it was at home, now that her brother Keith had finished grad school, vacated the holding cell, the apartment above the garage where each of her brothers had lived — summers, after college, between jobs or girlfriends. She was the only one left in the nest and she was counting the months until she would fly the coop and be free.

Her friends had always flocked to her house, but as far as Regina was concerned, life chez Foster was a bad fifties flashback, but so was the rest of her neighborhood. White, black, it didn't make any difference. Dads worked and moms mostly stayed home, except when they volunteered at the hospital or, worst of all, at school. Nobody even seemed embarrassed by the white picket fences that surrounded their well-tended colonials, like there could be a clearer stereotype. Her parents, Lonnie and Al were perpetually cheerful, responsible and solid, like King and Kennedy hadn't been assassinated, Vietnam never happened, Nixon hadn't been an accessory to burglary, or John Lennon hadn't been murdered right on the street by a maniac. Like they had been just thrilled about their midlife bundle of joy. It was all so fake as far as Regina was concerned.

"Regina, would you come in here honey?" her mother called from the kitchen.

Now what? Regina burst through the swinging door. "What are you all doing here?" Her parents, Keith, and the next-door neighbors who'd been like family her whole life all wore variations of the "I know something you don't know" grin.

"I heard you were crying yourself to sleep every night because you missed me, so I drove up." Keith, the youngest of Regina's three older brothers, and her favorite, was the only one still living at home while she was growing up.

"Hardly." She stuck her tongue out at him. "You got tired of Spam and Velveeta burgers and came home for some real food."

"Okay you two clowns." Lonnie, a round-faced butterball in a pink tennis shirt and chinos, came up behind her daughter, gripped her shoulders. "Let's go into the dining room."

"Dining room? It's Wednesday." Before Regina got an answer her mother steered her through the door and turned up the chandelier, revealing the table, set like Sunday dinner.

"Daddy get another promotion?" Regina asked, but when she looked up, all eyes beamed her way.

"Look at your place, Queenie." Keith had given her that nickname when she was ten and found out her name was Latin for queen. For weeks she reminded her family of her royal designation.

Regina zeroed in on the two envelopes beside her plate and her knees turned to rubber bands. She sent off college applications months ago, then put them out of her mind. She knew she'd get in someplace. In spite of her less than enthusiastic effort, she maintained a 3.8 average, had great SAT scores. She was class vice-president and yearbook editor — because she liked being out front, planning the fun and delegating the grunt work. The thought of four more years in school made her want to chew glass, but she applied to college anyway, because becoming the first Foster in three generations not to attend was not an option.

From the time she learned B followed A, Regina had heard the proud recitations. Her grandma and granddaddy Foster as well as both of her parents and her oldest brother, AJ, had graduated from Howard. Her dad earned his doctorate in chemical engineering from Columbia. AJ got his Ph.D. from Stanford. Her middle brother, Michael, completed his graduate work at Duke and Keith had just finished his master's at Rutgers. Regina was left to bring up the rear, although she couldn't see anything left for her to accomplish. Her parents never exactly said she had to follow the family academic legacy, but every time one of her mother's sorority sisters asked about her major, or a church member wanted to know what she was going to do when she finished college, she felt the pressure. "Be famous, or maybe infamous," she would answer, only half joking. Regina felt like her whole family was born knowing why they were put on the planet. She didn't have a clue what she wanted to be, except not like them.

(Continues…)



Excerpted from "Better Than I Know Myself"
by .
Copyright © 2004 Virginia DeBerry and Donna Grant.
Excerpted by permission of St. Martin's Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents

Prologue: "... Side by Side by Side.",
1: "I Made It.",
2: "Three Pieces from Very Different Puzzles.",
3: "... Flying Solo in the Naked City.",
4: "Everything Costs Something.",
5: "Born Ready and Tired of Waitin'.",
6: "You've Been Where They Want to Go.",
7: "Yeah — Maybe — I Don't Know.",
8: "... Back-When Moments and What-If Hopes.",
9: "... The Wrong Meat for This Sandwich.",
10: "I Don't Need Nobody Rockin' My Boat.",
11: "... Time Makes You More of Who You Are ...",
12: Through It All,
13: "Kiss? Cheek? Lips? Too Much to Consider.",
14: "The Better to Sleep With, My Dear.",
15: "... Everything is Business, Especially Family.",
16: "... No Training Wheels ...",
17: "... I'll Sleep When I'm Old.",
18: "... You've Probably Been Looking for My Horns.",
19: "... Truth Hurts Less Than All the Lies ...",
20: "She'd Have to Juggle Like a Champ to Keep All Her Balls in the Air.",
21: "... Storm Clouds Brewing, With No Hint of the Sun.",
22: "Duty and Curtain Calls?",
23: "... Nothing to Lose and Worlds to Conquer.",
24: "Love Feels a Whole Lot Better.",
25: "... Jumping Off a Building Feels Like Flying Till You Hit Bottom.",
26: "... What-iffing Won't Change a Thing.",
27: "No Need for Sorry.",
28: "... Once-in-a-Life Timing ...",
29: "... Tempting the Fates.",
30: ... A Life Is Something You Build —,
Epilogue: And Some Things Never Change,
Authors' Note to the Readers,
We Gratefully Acknowledge,

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Better Than I Know Myself 4.3 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 39 reviews.
her3mom More than 1 year ago
Okay - I don't know where I've been and how this one slipped past my fingers. I've been a fan of these two powerful ladies for quite some time. Their writing style is like no other. I love they way they loose themselves in order to tell a story. This book had me from page one. I'm sitting at work sleepy right now because I stayed up late and was up early. I felt like a part of the family.... Carmen, Regina and Jewel will be invited to the next family re-union. I loved, loved, loved it........... Thanks again Ladies
edith hall More than 1 year ago
Good summer read.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
The authors got me to really know and care for the characters. Didn't want it to end.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I have never cried so hard. When I finished reading the book, I cried for about 3 days. It was such a page turner and I can relate to every single womans pain in this book! Awesome authirs, awesome writing, awesome read!!!!!
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Guest More than 1 year ago
I absolutley loved this book, I felt like I knew these girls as close friends. Being a young woman going through life I was able to relate as well as see a new perspective on life in the ever-changing world.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I thoroughly enjoyed this book. I laughed 'a lot', cried, and empathized with the characters. The characters and situations in this book allow everyone to relate and provide a basis for reflection and a deeper understanding of one's self. I highly recommend this book.
Guest More than 1 year ago
The plot in this story sizzles. It is a long book intended to be read slowly and savoured. The seamlessness of the story is noticeable. You cannot tell one writer from the other. The importance of girl friends comes through clearly. I thought Regina's addiction and downfall was very well handled. One of these authors must have experienced close up the agony of breast cancer. This part was so poignant - so real. The pain of giving up a child for adoption was also very real. A very interesting book!
Guest More than 1 year ago
This book, one of a kind. It gives you everything a book could, drama, love, friendship, drugs, etc. it covers all topics. The story of 3 friends from 3 totally different backgrounds, who come together in an odd way and you tag along as their friendship and lives develops. This book is hard to put down. Do not hesistate to purchase, You will not be disappointed.
Guest More than 1 year ago
i pick this book up and 24 hours later i was finished{only took that long because i had to sleep}this is a book of three women who formed a friendship that we all wished we had ,the good times and the bad times they were there for each other,it made my heart warm and it made my heart break,i would recommend that everyone who wants to know the true meaning of friendship and life read this book.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I really loved this book, i love the friendships i loved the girls and i really enjoyed reading this book. please write another book like this one it's hard to find something good to read.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This was the second book that I read by Ms. DeBerry and Ms. Grant. It reminded me of what real friendship is about. Although the women in the book were from different backgrounds they forged a friendship that withstood the test of time. I cried, I laughed but most of all I felt everything that they felt. It was most refreshing too to read a book that wasn't bogged down with a lot of sex and violence to make the story. I can't wait for the next one!!
Guest More than 1 year ago
I really like the authors and have read other books by them and they were all excellent ! However , I took the book back because it was just not interesting and I did not seee the connection between the 3 friends.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Better than i know myself was great. As you read this book you get to know each of the characters. very emotional but keeps you interested. I read the book in 3 days.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I have been waiting for another good book from these two authors. Their first book Trying to Sleep In the Bed You Made was a great read also.
Guest More than 1 year ago
In the Brooklyn projects ¿prisoner¿ Carmen struggles to survive the mean streets. Her father is dead, her mother vanished, and her older brother has ¿raised¿ her by abusing her. Hew ticket out of the slums is Columbia University, but that means two jobs and non-stop studying. ---In Franklin, New Jersey, upper middle class Regina lives the African-American equivalent to the Cleaver household though she is no Beaver. Her parents ¿Ward and June¿ have set life goals for her that so restrict her she is ready to revolt. ---In Baldwin hills, California, teenage star Jewel cannot hide from the fact that she is recognizable as a star on the TV show 'Daddy's Girl. However, Jewel has made some decisions about the direction of her life. She plans to go to school to obtain a real education and to achieve that she needs to escape from her stage mother. ---In 1981, these three teens from totally different social classes meet in Morningside Heights and forge a friendship that survive drugs, secrets, illness, betrayal, and death. For each ahs found solace in the other two. ---This sisterhood tale is a fine comparative look at three strong protagonists who form a friendship that helps each of them achieve a modicum of happenings in spite of setbacks. Each of the trio is a unique fully developed person so that readers understand what drives them. Fans of a strong character study inside a buddy tale will enjoy the apropos titled BETTER THAN I KNOW MYSELF for these pals surely do. ---Harriet Klausner
Guest More than 1 year ago
I really enjoyed this book. It was book about overcoming obstacles, finding love, and believing in friendship. I cried....I don't normally cry over books, but this book touch my heart. And when i was finished I wanted to call my bestfriend and just tell her that I loved her no matter what. That's how this book made me feel. I recommend it to people who enjoy reading a good book.