Getting to Happy by Terry McMillan | Book Review

The brilliant writing of Terry McMillan brought back my love for reading. I am constantly in awe of Terry McMillan’s writing style and storylines. Her storylines are realistic but raw and dynamic enough to leave an element of surprise. Getting to Happy by Terry McMillan is an excellent example of this. Many have watched or read the book “Waiting to Exhale” but few have read the follow-up, Getting to Happy. Getting to Happy is a sequel to Waiting to Exhale, picking up on the lives of characters Bernadine, Gloria, Savannah, and Robin years later. 

Supporting each other through motherhood, heartbreak, grief, addiction, and love, these four friends are the epitome of friendship goals. 

Themes

  • Black wellness  
  • Black self-care 
  • Black Love 
  • Heartbreak 
  • Grief 
  • Addiction 
  • Friendship
  • Sisterhood
  • Motherhood
  • Black success 
  • Black ownership
  • Old flings 
  • Career changes

Black Stereotypes 

Entrepreneurship, ownership, and career achievements are key themes in the novel for each character. Terry McMillan went against popular myths, stereotypes, and stigmas associated with black people, specifically black women. McMillan debunked myths that black women have an inability and incapability to obtain and hold leadership positions. In addition to countering stereotypes that black women and men are uneducated, jobless, and lack motivation. 

Setting of the Book 

Getting to Happy is set in sunny Phoenix, Arizona. Arizona is a popular tourist site because of the famous Grand Canyons. With beautiful mountains and views, Phoenix was the perfect setting for this novel. With the use of real-world Phoenix history, locations, streets, and places throughout the narration, I could imagine myself in the city while reading. Especially, since I took a recent trip to Phoenix. The resort I vacationed at was mentioned in the book.

Timeline

The story took place sometime in 2005. The year is clear from Terry McMillan’s references to Hurricane Katrina in the storyline. Hurricane Katrina was a major humanitarian disaster that devastated New Orleans, Louisiana leaving many dead and homeless. Black communities in particular were hit hardest by Katrina. The lack of federal aid and assistance during Hurricane Katrina from President Bush’s administration has always been a sore spot for many.

McMillan’s ability to connect real-world events, particularly black events, into storylines is a reason she’s one of my favorite authors. 

Main Characters 

Bernadine “Bernie” Harris- Wheeler – the wealthy dreamer friend 

Gloria Matthews-King – the laidback/ mom friend 

Savannah Jackson- the self-aware loner friend 

Robin Stokes – the free-spirited/ promiscuous friend 

Savannah Jackson 

Savannah Jackson is a black middle-aged writer and television producer who creates shows that identify complex social and cultural issues. Her mission is to start a bigger conversation that is geared towards finding solutions. Devoting her life to her career, Savannah got married later in life and has no children. Despite the inability of others to recognize and understand the gravity and importance of her work, her mission and career goals have always come first. 

“Even though I have an interesting job, it feels like I should be doing more. All I ever wanted was to do something with my life that would have a positive impact on other people. To do something to make us look in the mirror or slow down long enough to see what our behavior really says about us.” 

Pg. 11

HeavieTalk mission

Savannah is my favorite friend in the group because I relate to her character the most.  As a writer, multimedia artist, and creator that focuses on social impact, I understand her mission. I also experience similar dilemmas wondering if the mission I have with HeavieTalk is making a difference. I also admire Savannah’s independence and confidence. Many people are afraid to be alone and or/ aren’t aware of their value and worth, so they settle for less than they know they deserve. Savannah’s character for me was not only a confirmation that it’s okay to be alone but, also a reminder to never settle, in any area of life. 

Savannah’s story begins

Savannah’s story starts with the divorce from her husband, Issac.  “Opposites attract” is the perfect phrase to describe Savannah and Issac’s relationship and their eventual breakdown.  The pair share major differences in careers, interests, hobbies, and beliefs. 

Savannah is a modest registered Democrat, working as a television producer, who enjoys traveling and reading. Issac is a registered Republican that dedicates all of his free time to woodworking. Vast differences in political beliefs and professions, plus small differences like Issac’s lack of interest in traveling made them too opposite after all. 

Refusing to settle for a life of mediocrity and unhappiness, Savannah gets divorced and decides to take a spontaneous solo trip to Paris, France beginning her journey of “getting too happy.”

“I didn’t come to Paris to run from myself. I came to run back to myself.” 

Pg. 409

Savannah’s journey to happiness forces her to reevaluate her life and career. She adjusts to life as a mid-aged divorced woman. 

“I’m tired of paying the handyman and I wonder if they have classes to teach you how to fix stuff around the house, especially if you don’t have a husband to do it.” 

Pg. 274

Most importantly, she had to make a big change in her lifestyle choices. Especially after being diagnosed with diabetes. As she embarks on her new journey as a divorced woman she must rediscover herself and learn how to navigate through her new life. 

“Nothing like a little diabetes to act as a wake-up call.” 

Pg. 400

Health and Wellness

Lifestyle changes and overall health and wellness are other intricate themes in the book. Having similar challenges and health problems bonded them in a deeper way and allowed them to better support one another. 

Gloria’s heart attack was an eye-opener and pivotal moment for the friend group, bringing all of them together. 

Gloria Matthews-King

Gloria Matthews-King is what I call the ‘mom friend.’ She’s a selfless and understanding person that looks after everyone and puts herself last. As the eldest and wisest of the group, she is the glue that holds everything together and keeps everyone in line. She’s that same glue for friends and family. 

Black motherhood

Gloria has devoted her life to motherhood, raising her only son Tariq. Tariq is a police officer. Tariq and his wife Nikida, share 4 children with Blaze, Stone, and Diamond and Brass. Their youngest child, Diamond was diagnosed with autism after she suddenly stopped talking. 

“She was diagnosed as autistic, but Nikida refuses to believe it. “She’ll talk when she has something to say.”’

Tariq also raises Nikida’s 14-year old son Brass from her previous marriage. 

Black family structures 

I have to note the importance of the characterization and dynamics of Tariq and his family. Tariq’s identity as an educated, successful police officer, who is fully involved in the lives of his family is a much-needed portrayal of black men. Tariq’s family structure not only highlights the ability for black men to be active father figures but also brings awareness to spectrum disorders like autism. Oftentimes, in some families, there is a lack of education and acknowledgment for spectrum and mental health disorders. 

Black hair

Gloria’s second love Oasis Hair & Beauty. Oasis Hair & Beauty specializes in weaves, sew-ins, braids, and natural styles for black women. Gloria’s dream has always been to expand Oasis Hair & Beauty to include spa treatments, but fear and timing always held her back.

Black love

Gloria didn’t realize the other love she was missing until she met her new neighbor Marvin King. 

“Gloria Matthews being neighborly and glad to see another black family moving into the neighborhood, and thinking he had a wife and family – had gone over to introduce herself and bring them her famous sweet potato pie.” 

Pg. 105

 Gloria’s journey to love with Marvin is a major storyline in “Waiting to Exhale.” 

The beginning of Gloria and Marvin’s love story is a perfect representation of Gloria’s character, identity, and values.  The joy Gloria felt seeing a new black family moving in the neighborhood is a common feeling if you’re black. 

Not only did that the introductory gesture show her identity as a black person but it also displayed her values. Like other black authors, Terry McMillan uses the daily experiences and history of black people to shape characters and storylines.

Gloria’s story begins

For years, Gloria and Marvin immersed themselves in a beautiful love story. Marvin engraved himself into the lives of Gloria and her family. Then life happens…

After an unspeakable tragedy, Gloria must adjust to her new normal and focus on “getting to happy.” 

“Over the next six or seven months Gloria would discover how quickly time passes when you’re happy and how slowly when you’re sad.” 

Pg. 106

Will grief, loss, and fear stop her from being happy and living her dream? 

Robin Stokes 

Robin is the free spirit of the friend group, the life of the party. The one friend that always has relationship troubles but no stable relationship.

“20 years ago, I couldn’t go more than two weeks without having some kind of orgasm, and feeling desperate wasn’t even a concern. I’d just pick one out of a lineup and call it a night.” 

Pg. 23

Robin’s story begins

After a history of bad relationships, flings, and a wild reputation for being a side chick, Robin took a break from men to focus on raising her daughter. Robin’s teenage daughter Sparrow is the focal point of her story.  

 “Raising Sparrow made me shift my focus. I felt a kind of love for her that was better than any romantic kind. Once you bring a life into the world, your priorities change. You change.” 

Pg. 35

 Mother-Daughter Bond

The relationship between Robin and her daughter reminds me of my relationship with my mother. My mother and I are very close. The same is true for Robin and Sparrow’s relationship. 

With a dead-end job and no love life, for years Robin’s life has been stagnant. Then everything changes at the drop of a dime. Robin reconnects with a fling from the past and undergoes a big career change. 

How will Robin adjust? Will she get a second chance at love?

Bernadine ‘Bernie’ Harris-Wheeler 

After a bad first marriage that resulted in two children, Bernie jumps in deep with her new hubby James. All hell breaks loose when Bernie receives a call about her husband James, whose real name is Jesse Hampton.

Bernie’s story begins

Six years after learning she was married to a con artist who robbed her nearly broke, Bernie is still struggling to accept it. Pills have become her new crutch.

‘She doesn’t dream about the whole ordeal anymore. Occasionally, it just shows up and jumps inside her. When it does, she waits the five or ten minutes it takes for her breathing..” 

Pg. 48

Bernadine decides what’s more important, her addiction or her life. 


Hope you enjoyed this review!

My goal was to be as descriptive as possible without giving away too many spoilers or key parts of the story. 

Rating: 

4.5/5

Writing this review made me realize how important the pre sequel “Waiting to Exhale” is to this story.  A review on “Waiting to Exhale” will be coming soon.

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More blog posts dropping soon. Self-care. Wednesday Wisdom. Heavie’s Sports Corner. College Life. 

Published by HeavieTalk

Hi, I'm Heaven 'Heavie' the creator of HeavieTalk. Welcome to my blog. Unlike other blogs, HeavieTalk has no specific niche. I will cover a variety of topics such as mental health, self-care, sports, politics, and anything else that I come across on my journey as a black millennial college student.

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