Just Too Good to be True (Harris)

Just Too Good to Be True
E. Lynne Harris, 2008
Knopf Doubleday
336 pp.
ISBN-13: 9780385492737

Brady Bledsoe and his mother, Carmyn, have a strong relationship. A single mother, faithful churchgoer, and owner of several successful Atlanta beauty salons, Carmyn has devoted herself to her son and his dream of becoming a professional football player. Brady has always followed her lead, including becoming a member of the church's “Celibacy Circle.” Now in his senior year at college, the smart, and very handsome, Brady is a lead contender for the Heisman Trophy and a spot in the NFL. As sports agents hover around Brady, Barrett, a beautiful and charming cheerleader, sets her mind on tempting the celibate Brady and getting a piece of his multimillion-dollar future—but is that all she wants from him, and is she acting alone?

Carmyn is determined to protect her son. She’s also determined to protect the secret she’s kept from Brady his whole life. As things heat up on campus and Carmyn and Brady’s idyllic relationship starts to crumble, mother and son begin to wonder about the other—are you just too good to be true?

A sweeping novel about mothers and sons, football and beauty shops, secrets and lies, Just Too Good to be True has all the ingredients that have made E. Lynn Harris a bestselling author: family, friendship, faith, and love.

The beloved bestselling author of Any Way the Wind Blows returns with this bold, irresistible novel of football, family, and secrets. (From the publisher.)

Author Bio
Birth—June 20, 1955
Reared—in Little Rock, Arkansas, USA
Died—July 23, 2009
Where—Los Angeles, California
Education—B.A., University of Arkansas, Fayetteville
Awards—James L. Baldwin Award for Literary Excellence

Jackie Collins has kept the literary romance world well stocked with claws-out, upper-crust melodramas. But until E. Lynn Harris came along, the genre lacked a little...diversity. Harris brought diversity and then some, with his now-trademark “buppie” characters, questions about sexuality, and hopelessly (but deliciously) complicated relationships.

Written from both male and female points of view and featuring recurring characters, Harris’s books can be read as a veritable soap opera. The cycle begins with Invisible Life, the story of Raymond Winston Tyler Jr.— a character Harris has acknowledged bears many similarities to himself. Raymond grapples with his sexuality, developing a relationship with a man he meets in law school and jeopardizing one with his girlfriend. His coming-of-age continues over the next two novels in the trilogy, Just As I Am and Abide with Me, as he struggles with losses of friends to AIDS, the ending of a relationship with an actress, and the beginning of a new one with a man.

Another recurring Harris character, Basil Henderson, is the man readers love to hate. An arrogant, badass football player-turned-sports agent, Basil beds both women and men until he meets up with his female (and later, male) counterparts. His story is mainly told in Not a Day Goes By and Any Way the Wind Blows.

It's true that in the Basil Henderson books, Harris is taking a saucy cue or two from his female romance novel predecessors; but the author claims to be more heavily influenced by writers such as Maya Angelou and Terry McMillan, and it would be misleading to pigeonhole his books as purely guilty pleasures. Particularly in his earlier books, Harris brought to a mainstream readership the issues that many gay and bisexual men face, and added a new voice to the portrayal of black, upwardly mobile characters. And in books such as If This World Were Mine and the young adult novel Diaries of a Light-Skinned Colored Boy, he has addressed issues of race and self-realization.

Given his themes, it may seem surprising that the majority of Harris's readers are straight women; but it's also a testament to his ability to write about love and self-discovery with humor, not to mention a little steaminess.

• Harris worked as a salesman for IBM, and earned a following by self-publishing Invisible Life before getting a book deal.

• He was tapped to write the screenplay for an update of the 1976 movie Sparkle, to be produced by Whitney Houston's production company. But with the death of Aaliyah, who was attached to star, the project's future is uncertain. (From Barnes & Noble.)

Book Reviews
[Harris] tucks in plot twists bound to keep his readers turning pages late at night.
Washington Post

The storyline involving the exploitation of star athletes—a hot-button topic to be sure—is excellent.
Chicago Sun-Times

What's got audiences hooked? Harris's unique spin on the ever-fascinating topics of identity, class, intimacy, sexuality, and friendship.

Harris has stimulated a dialogue within the African-American community desperately needed for so long about the complicated issues of sexuality.
Southern Voice

Discussion Questions
Use our LitLovers Book Club Resources; they can help with discussions for any book:

How to Discuss a Book (helpful discussion tips)
Generic Discussion Questions—Fiction and Nonfiction
Read-Think-Talk (a guided reading chart)

Also consider these LitLovers talking points to help get a discussion started for Just Too Good to Be True

1. Is Brady...well, just too good to be true? In other words, does Harris paint him as a realistic character? Is he fully developed, flaws and all, as a human being?

2. How about Barrett's character? What are her motivations? Has Harris portrayed her as a stereotypical vamp? Or has he given her more depth than is first apparent? Do we come to see something more human beneath her shallow exterior by the end of the book?

3. Carmyn and her secret: what does Harris seem to be suggesting about secrets—their ability to corrode the soul or compromise relationships based on love and truthfulness.

4. Usually people don't reveal secrets out of shame...is that a plausiable explanation for Carmyn's deception? How do you feel about Brady's reaction to his mother when the truth is revealed? Can...should forgiveness trump deception?

5. Harris explores issues surrounding the exploitation of young African-American athletes. What pressures are young players subjected to? Do you find that world unscrupulous?

6. A couple of storylines seemed to have been dropped. What happened to Naomi and the baby? Or Brady's best friend and mother? Were you annoyed that their stoylines were never concluded?

7. Then there's May Jean—and especially that email message. Funny?

8. Was the ending predictable? Or were you pleasantly surprised by how events were resolved?

(Questions by LitLovers. Please feel free to use them, online or off, with attribution. Thanks.)

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