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Children of the Waters

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A Novel

Written by Carleen BriceAuthor Alerts:  Random House will alert you to new works by Carleen Brice

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List Price: $9.99

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On Sale: June 23, 2009
Pages: 224 | ISBN: 978-0-345-51485-1
Published by : One World/Ballantine Ballantine Group
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Synopsis|Excerpt

Synopsis

Still reeling from divorce and feeling estranged from her teenage son, Trish Taylor is in the midst of salvaging the remnants of her life when she uncovers a shocking secret: her sister is alive. For years Trish believed that her mother and infant sister had died in a car accident. But the truth is that her mother fatally overdosed and that Trish’s grandparents put the baby girl up for adoption because her father was black.

After years of drawing on the strength of her black ancestors, Billie Cousins is shocked to discover that she was adopted. Just as surprising, after finally overcoming a series of health struggles, she is pregnant–a dream come true for Billie but a nightmare for her sweetie, Nick, and for her mother, both determined to protect Billie from anything that may disrupt her well-being.

Excerpt

Chapter One


Trish


Since Trish Taylor came back home to Aurora, Colorado, she had found ten jigsaw puzzle pieces. They seemed to be everywhere: on the sidewalk near her house, in the parking lot at the grocery store, in the park where she walked her dogs.

Trish’s grandmother used to put jigsaws together. Now, a different type of woman would have started to think something funny was going on, that all these puzzle pieces were some kind of sign. But Trish wasn’t the kind who believed in symbols or signs from above. No gods, ghosts, afterlives, religion, or anything that couldn’t be studied and quantified.

She believed in a life force. She had felt it when she was pregnant, and had seen it in animals in the different clinics where she had worked. So natural? Yes. But supernatural? No way, José. She’d known there wasn’t a god since she was four years old, when her mother and baby sister were killed in a car accident.

She’d been on her way to work this morning at Friendly’s Animal Hospital when she’d found the eleventh puzzle piece on the sidewalk right in front of the doors. She picked it up and bounced it in her left hand, the small pasteboard piece making a soft clicking sound against the peridot mother’s ring she wore where her wedding ring used to be. The question that came to her when she found the first puzzle piece tickled the back of her mind, but again she dismissed it. One of her coworkers must have dropped it on the way in. Or maybe a client’s child had lost it yesterday.

“Don’t be silly,” she said to herself, blowing blond bangs out of her eyes. She slid the jigsaw piece into the pocket of her scrubs and went inside to stock the treatment rooms with supplies before the first clients arrived. She set the puzzle piece on the front counter while she reached for her key to the supply room and pharmacy.

“Qué es?” Alicia Alemán asked.

Alicia, the practice manager, was the closest thing to a friend Trish had since she returned to Colorado. Friendly’s was a three-doctor practice. All the vets were male and over forty. The rest of the staff was female, and most were so young Trish and Alicia secretly called them fetuses. Half-Mexican and half-Cuban, Alicia was even shorter than Trish (who was only five foot one) and reminded her of a beautiful tabby cat. Fat and sleek at the same time, caramel-skinned, with lush black hair. The definition of the word feminine. No matter the weather, she was always in heels and a skirt. One evening they went for drinks after work and Trish watched a man jab his chin with a fork full of food, missing his own mouth, because he was staring at Alicia.

“Nothing. I found it. I keep finding pieces of puzzles.”

“Cómo que. . . ?”

“I’ve found eleven puzzle pieces in the last month.”

“Here?”

“All over town.”

Alicia scrunched up her face, creating charming little wrinkles around her eyes. “To the same puzzle?”

“No. Different parts of different puzzles.”

“Why would you be finding puzzle pieces?”

“I have no idea.”

“Do you do puzzles?”

“No.” Trish hesitated. If she said the ridiculous idea she couldn’t seem to shake, the conversation was going to veer in a direction she was pretty sure she didn’t want it to go. “My grandmother liked to do puzzles.”

“Your abuela who’s dead?”

Alicia was very close to her family. A semi-lapsed Catholic, she was divorced and only went to mass on Easter and Christmas Eve, but she still crossed herself before she ate and lit a candle to St. Francis of Assisi, patron saint of animals, every time they lost a patient.

“Don’t get all weird on me,” Trish said. “It’s just a coincidence.”

“Believing in ghosts isn’t weird.”

“Uh, I don’t know about on your planet, but on my planet it is.”

“Hey, my people invented a whole day to celebrate those who have passed on. On El Día de los Muertos we decorate and play music and put out food as offerings for our dead relatives.”

“But that’s totally symbolic. You don’t really think they come back to eat the food.”

“Mira, your abuela could be trying to talk to you.”

Though she wasn’t ready to admit it, this was the question that was swirling around in her mind: Were the puzzle pieces from Nana? “To say what? The woman barely spoke to me when she was alive. Why would she start talking to me now?”

“Se las da de sabihonda.” Alicia said to herself with frustration, tucking a few strands of hair that had the audacity to go astray behind her ear. The rest of the female staff wore jewelry with little dogs or cats on it. No critter earrings for Alicia though. Today, she had small gold hoops in her ears. Trish would have bet money that Alicia slid out of her mother’s womb wearing pearls. Simple and elegant even at birth. “She’s not my grandmother. How should I know?”

“The only advice she ever gave me was ‘Keep your legs crossed until you graduate.’ ”

Alicia laughed. “That’s not the worst advice I ever heard.”

“And why is it that when the dead ‘speak’ they don’t come out and say what they mean? Why do they always use mysterious hints and clues? I mean really, fuck. Nana, if you’ve got something to say, just say it already.”

“This is how you speak to your grandma?”

Trish rolled her eyes. “That’s my point. She can’t hear me.”

“That’s my point. You’re so fresca, cynical. You think life is supposed to always make sense. Not everything about life and death is so reasonable and rational. You watch, once you figure out what she’s trying to tell you, you’ll stop finding puzzle pieces.”

She got a fun-size chocolate bar out of the bowl on the counter. “Here. I know you think chocolate makes sense.”

“Sadly, this is true,” Trish said, opening the foil and popping the candy into her mouth. Chocolate, doughnuts, cookies, and pizza were Trish’s four food groups. The sweetness melting on her tongue now was almost enough to make her forget the fact that she had gone up another dress size since her separation and divorce. She’d always been chunky, but now about the only thing she felt comfortable in were her drawstring scrubs.

Back when things were good, Tommy, her ex, who was black, used to tease her about her curves, saying things like, “How’d a white girl end up with a big juicy booty like this?” But a few years after having Will she went from having a luscious ass to being fat and boring, and by the time Will was four, Tommy was cheating on her.

“I totally have to go on a diet,” she said.

Alicia rubbed her chin theatrically. “Hmmm. Where have I heard that one before?”

Trish frowned. It was all Tommy’s fault. So she gained a little weight after getting married and having a baby. Who didn’t? But the real weight didn’t start to pile on until after she started finding condoms in his pocket and strange phone numbers on his cell.

“I mean it this time. I’ve got to do something. I’ve got to change something.” And not only her weight. Trish had ostensibly come back to Colorado from North Carolina to escape the heat and humidity, but there was more to it than that. She was also hoping she’d be able to figure some things out. She was thirty-six and divorced, and her only son would leave the nest in a couple of years. If she wasn’t going to be a wife and a mom, what was she going to be? Somehow she thought that if she came back to the place where she and Tommy had started, and where her family had started and disintegrated, she’d be able to figure out who she was again. If there was anything left for her, it had to be here.

But the last eight months had been taken up finding a house and a job and enrolling Will in school. She worked four days a week for at least ten hours, often eleven or twelve. And between her job, Will, and her dogs, she found herself just as lost here as she had been back in North Carolina.

“Maybe your abuela is trying to give you some clues about how to change.”

Trish nearly choked on her candy. Nana giving anybody clues about changing their life was totally crazy. She looked at the clock. “I better get started. It’s almost time to open the madhouse.”

Over the course of the day, they saw a Lab that had swallowed six rocks, several vomiting cats, a cat that had killed a squirrel (a serious concern, since some squirrels in the area had tested positive for the plague), a dog that had been hit by a car, and lots of dogs and cats being treated for diseases like kidney failure, cancer, and diabetes. Trish barely had time to go to the bathroom, let alone think about puzzles and her dead grandmother.

At the end of the day, Shelli Pierce, one of their regular clients, brought in a Boston terrier she’d found.

“Left at Chatfield Reservoir like so much garbage,” Shelli said furiously in a clipped accent still reminiscent of a childhood spent in England, her bushy ginger hair quivering with indignation. She was a compact woman with tiny round eyes and a sharp, cunning face like a Pomeranian.

The Boston terrier’s ribs were showing, his breath was bad, and he had no tags or ID chip.

“I’d put him about a year old, and he hasn’t been neutered,” Dr. Pat muttered as he examined him.

That was how friendly Friendly’s was: Clients were encouraged to call the vets by doctor and their first names.

Tall, skinny, hawk nosed, Patrick Volt was from the old days of vet med, when it was a man’s game. Trish had hated Patrick since she started working there. Today, most veterinarians and technicians were women, but Dr. Pat treated everybody but the other doctors like servants. Well, except for Alicia. Nobody fucked with Alicia.

“Definitely mange,” Dr. Pat said authoritatively, parting the dog’s matted fur to look at his skin.

Trish mentally rolled her eyes. It didn’t take six years of schooling to know that.

“He keeps dragging his bum,” Shelli volunteered. “So I brought in a fresh sample.”

“I’m sure we’ll find worms.”

We as in me, Trish thought, accepting the plastic bag of dog poop Shelli held up.

“Look at those big beautiful eyes,” Shelli cooed to the scared dog. “Don’t worry, puppy. I’ll take you home soon. Yes I will. Yes I will.”

Trish knew this was coming. Their records showed that Shelli had five dogs and six cats, more animals than the city allowed, and the staff was almost certain Shelli had other pets that she took to another clinic. “Just how many dogs do you have now?” Trish asked.

“What are you implying? I’m the good guy here! I saved this dog’s life!” Shelli snapped. “Are you saying I don’t take care of my animals? Because I take care of my animals! You should know that, considering you people have made a small fortune off me. I do not have to take this!”

She held her head high as if suddenly the animal smell of the clinic was disturbing her fine senses. But her overreaction only confirmed Trish’s suspicions.

Dr. Pat’s dark bushy eyebrows flew up. It always freaked Trish out that his eyebrows were black, but his hair had gone gray.

“That is not how we converse with our clients. Please apologize right now!”

Grrr. “I’m just looking out for you and the welfare of all your animals. That’s all.”

“That’s what I’m trying to do too.”

Well, at least she knows that someone around here has an eye on her. “Good. Then I apologize and I’m glad we agree.” Trish turned to go to the lab with the bag of feces.

“Apology accepted,” Shelli said grudgingly. “I’ll be back to pick up Jigsaw tomorrow.”

Trish spun around. “Excuse me? What did you call him?”

Dr. Pat glared down at Trish over his bifocals. “Jigsaw’s a great name! Very unique,” he said.

Shelli beamed. “I thought of it because he’ll fit so well with the rest of the family. All my dogs are little ones, so they don’t scare the cats. He’ll fit right in.”

The tickling in the back of her mind got a little stronger, but Trish still didn’t believe that Nana was somehow communicating from beyond the grave. Trish was sure as shit that she wasn’t supposed to let this dog go home with a hoarder.

After she went to the lab, she walked Shelli out to the front door. Just before she opened it, she leaned in close and whispered forcefully, “You’re not taking that dog home. You have enough, more than enough animals.”

Shelli gasped, but Trish held up one hand to stop her. “And I’m prepared to call animal control and file a report to prove it if I have to.”

The tiny woman cringed. “You wouldn’t.”

Trish opened the door. “Try me.”

Shelli drew all fifty-some inches of herself up straight and puffed her chest out. “I’ve been thinking I should look for another veterinarian. Now I’m sure of it,” she said with a huff and marched out.

Trish closed the door behind her. It was time to lock up. She went into her pocket for the keys and the curves of the puzzle piece she had found that morning scratched a question she struggled to ignore against her fingertips. No way am I calling that poor dog Jigsaw, she thought. She turned the sign over so it read “Sorry, We’re Closed” and locked the door behind her.

Chapter 2

Billie

Billie Cousins shook exactly seven drops of sunflower oil mixed with lavender and rose essential oils into the palms of her hands. Then she bowed her head.

“Grandmothers and grandfathers,

Please watch over me.

Please watch over my man.

Please watch over the child growing inside me, who is of him and of me.

Thank you for your wisdom.

Thank you for your strength.

Thank you for your protection.

Ase!”

We’ll name our baby Ambata, she thought. “To connect” in Kiswahili. She said it out loud, “Ambata,” and anointed a pink candle with the blessing oil. Pink, the color of health and spiritual and familial love. She lit the candle and placed it on the low white-cloth-covered table next to the stick that showed the word “pregnant” in its little window. Also on the makeshift altar were a glass of fresh water (purification), a cobalt blue bowl filled with cornmeal (to feed the ancestors’ spirits), a scallop shell (representing the Great Mother from which we all come), a few copper pennies (an offering to the ancestors), and photos of her deceased grandparents and great-aunts and

-uncles. Because Billie didn’t have an actual photo of her great- grandmother—the Cheyenne Indian who had passed down her long nose, narrow eyes, and wide cheekbones to her—she had framed a picture of a Cheyenne girl taken by the famous Western photographer Edward S. Curtis.
Carleen Brice|Author Q&A

About Carleen Brice

Carleen Brice - Children of the Waters
Carleen Brice was recently named 2008 “Breakout Author of the Year” by The African American Literary Awards Show for her debut novel Orange Mint and Honey, which was also a selection of the Essence Book Club. She is also the author of Walk Tall:Affirmations for People of Color, and Lead Me Home: An African American’s Guide Through the Grief Journey and edited the anthology Age Ain’t Nothing but a Number: Black Women Explore Midlife. She lives in Denver, Colorado, with her husband and two cats.

Author Q&A

A Conversation with Carleen Brice


 Random House Reader’s Circle: Carleen, it’s a pleasure getting the chance to sit with you and talk all things books, now that you’re a seasoned and award-winning novelist! Perhaps the best place to start would be to ask how you feel about the success of your first novel. Orange Mint and Honey earned the First Fiction Award from the Black Caucus of the American Library Association and debut novel honors from the African American Literary Book Club. It was an Essence book club pick, and there’s been interest from Hollywood–and of course, admiration from readers everywhere. Did you have any idea that this would happen? 


Carleen Brice: I hoped, of course, for good things to come, but it’s pretty surreal when it happens. When they called my name at the awards for the African American Literary Book Club, and people at my table–who I had just met that night–screamed for me, it was amazing. The whole process has been incredible. I’m overjoyed and honored that my work has received so much attention. But the best thing has been reader response–I’m so grateful to the people who’ve taken the time to email me or write reviews online. 

RHRC: Can you tell us a bit about your visits to individual book clubs to discuss Orange Mint and Honey? How did that come about? How did you find the experience? 


CB: Book clubs contact me through my website, www.carleenbrice .com, or approach me at events and whenever I can, I make it a point to attend in person or via phone. It’s wonderful to hear the discussions firsthand. When you’re writing about your characters, it’s just you and them in a room. It’s really fun to see other people relate to them and treat them like they’re real–feeling sorry for them or getting mad at them–just like I did when I was writing. At first people are a little shy because the author is right there, but eventually they loosen up (the drinks served at book clubs might have a little to do with that!) and start saying how they really feel about the characters and the plot. I encourage that honesty (though so far it’s easy to do because nobody has hated it). It’s fun to hear one person say “I thought it was wrong for them to act out in the church the way they did.” And then someone else say, “I understand it. If I was Shay I would have been hollering too!” It makes me feel like I did my job when some of the group is siding with Shay and some of the group is siding with Nona, which happens at every single book club. 

RHRC: Did any of the early feedback you received about Orange Mint and Honey impact the way you wrote this novel (which, by the way, is simply stunning)? 


CB: Thank you! I wouldn’t say the feedback impacted how I write. I feel like I learned a lot writing my first novel, but writing this book was a completely different thing so I don’t know how much was applied to it. My goals were the same: to make people think and feel and for them to be entertained. It was inspiring to see that people responded so well to my first novel. It gave me hope that readers are interested in the same kind of characters and stories that I am. 

RHRC: Children of the Waters touches on so many issues–chronic illness, family secrets, interracial relationships, challenging pregnancies, holistic healing, self-esteem. How did you come to write this novel? Did any characters or storylines jump out at you above any others? 


CB:Well, the nugget of the story–the relationship with Trish and Billie–is based on a true story. One of my sisters-in-law is biracial and her family put her up for adoption and kept her older sister who is white. In real life she was adopted by a white family, so when her white birth sister found her, race wasn’t much of an issue. (And unlike Billie she was actually immediately very close with her birth sister.) There was also a young woman who worked for me years ago who discovered at a young age that her birth mother was Native American. Those two stories fascinated me. And truth be told I have a half sister who I’ve never met, and yet here I’ve written two books with characters who are half sisters. We’ve recently been in touch and I hope we’ll meet one day soon. As far as interracial relationships go, my husband is white. 

One brother was married to a biracial woman and all his in-laws were white. My other brother is married to a Latina. Our family is, like many, many families in this country, quite a mixed bag. I’m fascinated by reconciliation and how the past affects us even if we don’t think it does. So family secrets and dynamics are something I’m just naturally drawn to. 

RHRC: All of your characters have so many layers–especially Billie, whose ability to self-heal, reverence for her ancestors, and fulfilling love life are so expertly combined into one fierce package. Can you tell us a bit about how you came to put her together? What would you like most for readers to come away with in their understanding of this amazing woman? 


CB:My husband says Billie is me. That’s not completely true, but I believe my ancestors are with me, and I’m into holistic healing. Billie and Trish are both combinations of myself and other women I know, and my family. My family is all through this book! I have a couple of aunties who are different parts of Zenobia. Herbert and Fletcher are different parts of one of my grandfathers. Billie’s love for them is definitely my love for my family coming through. So I start with those basics and then characters become themselves. It’s funny how once you give a character a name and a little history, you start to know the rest of what works for them. 

RHRC: Why did you select lupus as Billie’s illness? 


CB: I have a friend who was diagnosed with lupus, and it’s a disease that affects a lot of women in this country. I’m happy to shed a little light on it. 

RHRC: Admittedly, Nick just might be our favorite character– although his irritable mood in the early chapters did kind of get under our skin. There was obviously so much more to this man than meets the eye. And in the love scene with Billie, where she thought he was moving back upstairs, he just about took our breath away! May we ask where you drew your inspiration from for Nick–and if he’s based on a real life character, does he have any real life brothers?! 

CB: That’s so funny! I’m sure there are plenty of Nicks out there in real life. 

RHRC: More seriously, Children of the Waters brings to the forefront so many questions about black male identity, from Nick’s familial challenges to Tommy’s distant parenting approach and Will’s struggles with being reared by a white woman. What type of dialogue are you hoping to encourage with these intense characters and scenarios? 


CB: I like writing about people who are like the people I know and see in real life. I like Nick because he’s flawed and human, and yet very romantic and a good guy. I’m interested in helping the world see that Barack Obama isn’t the only good black man. There are many. And what about Fletcher–he just might be my favorite character! 

RHRC: Now, we know you’re no stranger to discussions of race with regards to literature. In your blog welcomewhitefolks .blogspot.com, you host a forum for discussing how books by black authors are marketed, sold, and appreciated by non-black audiences. What made you begin this blog and what types of feedback have you received? 


CB: My blog is an answer to a call to action a writer posted on readersrooms.com (a site about African American fiction). Shon Bacon and novelist Bernice McFadden were discussing writers starting a grassroots effort similar to President Obama’s campaign to reach a wider audience. I semi-jokingly said, “We should start a holiday called Buy a Book by Somebody Black and Give It to Somebody White,” and one thing led to another. 

The feedback has been overwhelmingly positive. Most people get it. However, anytime you start talking about race in this country, things can get dicey. Some blacks and whites have been offended by the blog. Some don’t understand why it’s necessary, or disagree about how I’m choosing to talk about these issues, and that’s their right. But the best response has been emails from white readers asking me for suggestions of books to read, and a white editor who works in New York City publishing blogging about racism in publishing. I feel like my blog readers and I are shining a light on an issue in a way that will hopefully benefit writers, publishers, and readers. 

RHRC: What do you think needs to happen in order for up-andcoming black authors to rise to a level of visibility like the Toni Morrisons and Maya Angelous of the world? 


CB: Well, I suggested in one article that booksellers make their African American fiction sections smell like cookies; shower customers with confetti every time they enter the section; and let the champagne punch flow like a river. But that’s probably not realistic! I think it will take a concerted effort on the part of readers to shop outside their comfort zones. I think people will need to stop assuming that just because black people are on the cover, the book is only for black readers. 

Through my site I’ve discovered that most white readers don’t even know that African American fiction exists. And some black readers are turned off by urban fiction, therefore they avoid the section. I’m trying to help get the attention of all those readers to let them know about the enjoyable, well-written, high-quality fiction (literary and commercial) shelved in the Af Am section. I know the audience is out there of people of all races who will find that many, many black writers write fiction that is universal. We’ve just got to find them and encourage them. 

RHRC: You mention the 2008 Democratic National Convention in this novel. Can you share with us some of your experiences around this moment–especially as a Denver resident–and whether or not you think there’s an “Obama Effect” on all things black, including fiction? 


CB: Right in my own backyard and I didn’t see any of it in person! I was sick during the convention and standing in lines and walking for miles from where you parked to the convention sights just wasn’t an option. So my experience was much like the rest of the country’s–staring at a television through tears of joy. But I did have one “celebrity moment.” I watched Joe Biden’s speech in Lou Gossett Jr.’s hotel room! Mr. Gossett is a promoter of my first nonfiction book, so while he was in town we got to finally meet in person. Afterward, while I was waiting for the valet to get my car at his hotel, a young woman asked me to share a taxi with her. I explained I was waiting for my car and going home, but later heard her talking about a hip party she was going to where Kanye West was supposed to perform. I wish I could have forgotten about my car and hopped in the taxi with her, but I would have been asleep hours before Kanye came on stage! Sad, but true. 

I’m hoping and praying for an Obama effect. I’m hoping all those white folks who put race aside and voted in their own best interests will do the same in their personal lives. Vote their own best interests in book stores and be exposed to some really good books regardless of the race of the writers or characters. We’ll see. . . . 

RHRC: And for fun–where did you ever come up with names Cymfonee and A’Lexus?! How on earth do you think of this stuff? (And more important, can you tell us about your writing process, how you find inspiration, what keeps you motivated, and how you find the discipline to finish a novel?) 


CB: I’m glad you liked them! They were fun to come up with. I volunteer at a Head Start and I see lots of interesting names, so I had some good inspiration. 

My writing process involves lots of coffee, tears, prayers, and walks. It used to involve lots of cookies, but I’m trying to tempt my muse with healthier options these days. I also keep track of my daily word counts in a notebook and I love to see the numbers add up (sort of like going on a diet, in reverse). 

Writing a book in much like starting a relationship. At the beginning it’s all hearts and flowers and you’re madly in love with your story. Your story can do no wrong. Until it does. (For me, this is around page 100.) Then you start to notice what a jerk your story really is and start secretly thinking you can do better. You may even start cheating and work on another story on the side. Whether you give in to temptation or not, this is the moment you have to ask yourself why you thought your story was worth it in the first place. You remind yourself of why you wanted to tell this story and how important it is to you, and, you hope, how important it’ll be to others. Then you stop winking at other stories and focus on this one. You do this over and over and over until publication do you part. 

RHRC:We’ve already discussed your blog (well, one of them–how do you have the time?!), and you’re also active on Facebook and Twitter. How are you finding the experience of all the social networking online? Do you think all of these Internet tools are really useful to writers–or even necessary–and in what way? 


CB: I love online networking. I really do. When you’re writing at home in your pajamas, the social networks online are like your water cooler and break room. And online friends have been enormously supportive of me and my work. It’s great to “meet” people with shared values or opinions and help each other out. I love promoting other authors and the good karma has come back to me 100 percent. 

But it’s time-consuming, and really easy to hang out on Facebook rather than get work done. But writers are always going to find a way to procrastinate–at least I will! So it might as well be a way that promotes my work and allows me to gain great information and friendships. 

RHRC: Well, thank you very much for your time, Carleen. We’re true fans, and we count ourselves lucky to work with you and to help share your work more widely. We wish you the best in all you do–and hope to read more from you soon! 

Praise

Praise

“In Children of the Waters, Carleen Brice manages to explore the difficult, messy and unpleasant details of life with both humor and wisdom. The parallel journeys of sisters, Trish and Billie, will resonate with everyone and anyone who has questioned their identity and place in this world. Once again, Carleen Brice has crafted a thoroughly enjoyable novel that gets at the heart of the human experience." – Lori Tharps, author of Kinky Gazpacho

“I was exhausted and singing the blues the hour I began Carleen Brice's new novel, Children of the Waters. Five hours later, I'd finished this fresh, free-rein novel about mothers’ secrets and children's sorrows and was shouting 'Hurray!'” – Jacquelyn Mitchard, author of The Deep End of the Ocean

“In Children of the Waters, Carleen Brice deftly explores issues of family, identity, and race with a wonderful abundance of humor, forgiveness, and grace. This moving story of two sisters separated by prejudice will open minds and touch hearts. —Meg Waite Clayton, author of The Wednesday Sisters

“Carleen Brice highlights the effects of America's complicated relationship with race and identity…a clear and insightful depiction of what it means to be American at the dawn of the twenty-first century. Brice knows how far we have come and how far there is left to go, and in Children of the Waters she deftly lays it all out for the reader to see.”—Matthew Aaron Goodman, author of Hold Love Strong
Discussion Questions

Discussion Guides

1. On p. 230, Billie puts dirt from her mother’s grave in her mojo bag, noting that, “Dirt from a mother’s grave was some of the strongest protection there was.” Why do you think that is? What protective elements would you put in your mojo bag?

 2. Do you agree with Trish in keeping Will out of church while he was grounded?

 3. Was Will justified in being angry with the mall security guard who picked him up for shoplifting? 

4. Was Billie unrealistic in how she expected Nick to react to the news of her pregnancy? Do you think she purposefully tried to get pregnant against his will? 

5. How would you gauge Trish’s decision to visit Billie, despite Zenobia asking her not to out of concern for Billie’s illness and the health of the baby? Would you say Trish’s actions were selfish? How could her visit have benefited Billie? In Trish’s shoes, would you have visited Billie immediately, or would you have respected Zenobia’s wishes and waited until after the pregnancy? 

6. How did you feel about Billie’s visit to her mother and grandparents’ burial site? Did you think her harsh words to her grandparents were warranted? Did it seem hypocritical of her to speak to her true maternal ancestors in that way after she so reverenced her other ancestors? 

7. Why do you think Zenobia and Herbert chose to keep Billie’s adoption a secret? Do you feel that adopted children should always be informed about their natural parentage? 

8. What do you think Tommy’s role is in Will’s life? And do you think he’s more important to Will, or to Trish, and why? 

9. Why do you think it took so long–until meeting Billie, really– for Will to find a connection to his African American heritage? Why didn’t he learn about black history earlier? Do you think Trish’s desires to see the world through a colorblind lens helped or harmed him in the end? 

10. How would you compare or contrast Will and Billie with regard to how they construct their ethnic identities? Billie’s sense of identity was shaken when she learned of her mixed-race heritage. In what way does Will, when he is accused of shoplifting, also have to face startling truths about his ethnicity? 

11. Billie sums up the way she was treated by black girls on p. 234 by saying, “I ‘talked white’ and was light-skinned so they used to pick on me.” What does “talking white” mean? Have you experienced being called (or calling someone else) an oreo? What impact did that experience have on your idea of race and skin color? 

12. Does the information she found justify Billie’s searching through Nick’s things on p. 236? Have you ever snooped through a loved one’s belongings and had your suspicions confirmed? How did you feel afterward, and were you able to forgive or be forgiven? 

13. Did you sense anything fishy going on at Clear View Church? Was the clergy’s outward showing of wealth suspicious to you? What did you think was at work within that church? Why do you think it was attractive to Will? 

14. On p. 255, Trish says to Billie, “Face it, mixed-race people are the hottest thing going! Barack Obama, Halle Berry, Alicia Keys! What have you got to complain about? How has your life been so bad?” Is what Trish said true? How do you perceive people of biracial parentage? Are they more privileged than their singlerace peers? 

15. On p. 282 Will says, “Are you black because of your skin color? Are you black because of how you talk or how you dress?” How would you answer him? What does make a black person black and a white person white in America? Do you think that race is more of a social construct or a biological one? 


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