Review

What Looks Like Crazy on an Ordinary Day

by Pearl Cleage

Ava Johnson is the wisecracking hero of WHAT LOOKS LIKE CRAZY ON AN ORDINARY DAY, she's bald and she's beautiful --- and she's also HIV positive. After living it up in Atlanta for ten years, Ava temporarily returns home to live with her older sister Joyce in Idlewild, the small town in Michigan where she grew up. Her life in Atlanta was fast-paced and exciting --- a new, hot date was always an option, and her hair salon was thriving. Everything was moving along nicely until Ava got back positive results of her HIV test. Slam --- her plans are smashed by cold reality. So she decides to go back home, just for the summer until she can figure out what to do next. Right now her only next thought is that maybe she should go to San Francisco and become a lesbian.

Home used to be a sleepy little town in North Michigan where you could leave your doors unlocked and sleep with your windows open. Not anymore. The dangers of city life have hit the town hard --- drugs and violence are common. Ava's sister Joyce takes the town's problems upon herself. She starts a group called the Sewing Circus to help the young women in town learn how to take care of themselves. Immediately she asks Ava to help. Never one to turn her back on her family, Ava agrees. She thinks it will take her mind off her own problems. But what happens next is something Ava never expected. In the midst of the violence raging in the community and in her own body, Ava falls in love.

This book captures Ava's life at a pivotal moment. She has HIV, she's reevaluating everything she's ever done, including the relationship she stumbles upon in Idlewild. She's as terrified of dying as she is of living.

As she says, "But that's the problem with knowing. It takes away the possibility of pretending. Which is what I have been busy doing ever since I got here. Pretending that the Sewing Circus can change the world. Pretending that we can rescue Imani. Pretending that this place is so far away from the scene of the crime that the consequences can't catch me. Pretending I've got time to fall in love."

But Ava is not a quitter, and even in the darkest moments of her life she finds strength in her family and friends. Her wit and dry humor will make you laugh even as the circumstances make you cry. It's an honest look at an honest woman who has HIV --- she's not perfect, but as Ava would probably say, "Who is?" She's funny and smart, and ultimately unforgettable. WHAT LOOKS LIKE CRAZY ON AN ORDINARY DAY is not just another Oprah heartwarming, tear-jerking selection, it's a funny, charming book that really makes you feel.

Reviewed by Dana Schwartz on January 24, 2011

What Looks Like Crazy on an Ordinary Day
by Pearl Cleage

  • Publication Date: November 1, 1998
  • Genres: Fiction
  • Paperback: 256 pages
  • Publisher: Harper Paperbacks
  • ISBN-10: 038079487X
  • ISBN-13: 9780380794874