Growing up in the Ninth Ward of New Orleans, Johnny and Tonya meet in high school and fall for each other. Yet their romance falls apart when Johnny seriously injures Tonya's ex-boyfriend in an altercation. Johnny is imprisoned, and Tonya starts dating a rapper who fulfills her dreams of dancing in videos.
Depressed and deflated in jail, Johnny comes back to life thanks to the help of Pandora, the prison's "den mother," and James, who helps Johnny study for his GED. What starts as a platonic friendship between the sexually repressed Johnny and the openly gay James soon develops into a tender love that's put on hold when James is released on parole. A year later, Johnny is freed as well, haunted by his feelings.
Meanwhile, Tonya, no longer with the rapper, has a new dream of reuniting with Johnny. And James, who wows crowds as a legendary drag queen performer, is furious that Johnny hasn't reached out to him.
Their lives soon become a twisting roller coaster--secrets are revealed and assumptions are shattered in ways never imagined. Inviting comparison to E. Lynn Harris, Clarence Nero has created a compelling story about the social and sexual challenges black people face today.
Nero's second outing (after Cheekie), set against the backdrop of New Orleans's pre-Katrina Ninth Ward, deploys three deftly drawn narrators to tell a wrenching story of desire and survival. Tonya, a stripper at Club Circus in the French Quarter, dates a shifty, up-and-coming rapper while her true love, Johnny, a former football star and preacher's son, serves time in an upstate prison for roughing up Tonya's ex. In prison, Johnny meets James, a sassy, educated drag queen from the same side of the tracks, doing time for petty theft. Worlds collide when Johnny admits to his feelings for James and becomes torn between his long-repressed homosexuality and the woman and life he had before. Once on the outside, James and Johnny become tangled in intrigue involving former and potential lovers, parents, friends and the ever-present specters of jealousy, homophobia, spite and simple misunderstanding. Nero has an excellent sense of pacing and nails each character's voice with a distinctiveness that's both illuminating and, by turns, hilarious. He moves easily from drag queen balls to church pews, and though the plot strands are tied up too neatly at the end, the book's mold-breaking characters and myriad subplots will hook readers. (Oct.)
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October 01, 2006
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Excerpt from Three Sides to Every Story by Clarence Nero
1 Tonya I don't know where to begin with this nightmare, so I'm just gone start right around the time Johnny got his get-out-of-jail card, because that was when all the goddamn drama started going down between us. And I know everybody probably gone have something to say about the situation, but nobody knows what happened like I know. To begin with, I loved Johnny with my whole heart, so whoever tried to say I was using him or that I was some gold digger, they can kiss my black you know what for real. All the sistahs out there who've ever had a brother on lockdown will be able to relate to what I was going through back then: that sometimes it gets hard for a girl when your man is miles away in some jail and you still got needs. Don't misunderstand me. While Johnny was away in jail I was committed to him, but just not completely faithful. But the hard-core fact was, he was the one who got sent upstate for five years, not me. I still had shit I had to take care of on the outside, although Johnny was deep inside my heart and forever on my mind. Everyone knows that a sistah from the hood gotta get hers for herself, because ain't nobody really trying to give you a damn thing out here in these streets but the blues. So, yeah, I'll straight-up admit that I was laying the pussy down on Rico, an NO rapper who held down the dirty South like Lil' Wayne and Juvenile. If I don't say nothing else good about that lying, cheating nigga, I have to give Rico his props. He had mad skills on the mic and wasn't like some of those fake-ass rappers out there who talk about living the game and coming up from the cut because it helps them sell more records. Rico lived every bit of the street life. The shit he rapped about, I felt it deep down in my bones like a cold fucking breeze on a zero-degree day. I came from nothing, y'all, for real. My mama raised me and my two brothers in the Florida Project off of Desire Street without nobody's help but the good Lord's. Not to sound all broke-down or try to get some kind of sympathy either, but I have seen some shit out there in the world that could last me a lifetime. Although nothing beats seeing my own brother Eric get shot down like an animal in the streets by some crazy-ass nigga who was jealous over the fact that his woman had lust in her eyes for my brother. Niggas know they be killing one another for nothing. Took my brother's life for simply looking at his woman, but that ain't even half the shit me and my family been through in that lower Nine. I'm talking about the Ninth Ward, that is. And I for damn sure have a lot to say and to get off my chest, but some things you just gotta take your time with. Like I was saying, Rico was rapping about life in the projects, which I could relate to, so that's one of the reasons our friendship was so special. The other reason was the fact that we was both artists. Where Rico was a rapper, I could work a goddamn stage and dance a nigga right out of his drawers. Yeah, I was a stripper. Babee, ain't no shame in my game. And I ain't even trying to hide or deny it either. You see, I'm not ashamed of my past at all, because the past has only made me the strong woman I am today. I was stripping down at this spot called Club Circus in the French Quarter, right off of Bourbon Street when Rico first saw me doing my thing, shaking and clapping my ass for dollars. My stage name was Booty. You know that song "Bootylicious" by Destiny's Child? It was like they were singing about me. "Oh baby, you so hot, girl, you sizzle!" some corny nigga with a played-out Jheri curl and a mouthful of gold teeth hollered. Jheri Curl--what I would come to call him--was a regular at Club Circus who got on my last fucking nerve. "And, girl, you got the kind of ass that a make a nigga go bankrupt. Just booty on top of booty!" Jheri Curl would show up every night, sit up front n