It Had to Be You
by Courtni C. Wright
(Arabesque, $4.99, PG-13) ISBN 0-7860-0547-5
**
Blush, Courtni Wright's debut novel, was an engaging story about two cosmetics company executives that earned her a spot on my "Emerging Authors List" as a writer to watch. I eagerly awaited her second book, It Had to Be You.

It Had to Be You is the story of Jenna Cross, a recent law school graduate who has landed a job as an associate in a high-powered Washington, D.C. firm that boasts a blue-chip clientele. The story opens with a scene anyone who remembers "Day One" on their first "real job" can empathize with.

Armed with a Harvard law degree and decked out in her red power suit, Jenna's ready for her first day on the job at Bracken & Bracken. She is painfully aware that she must prove herself at the firm and gives herself a pep talk that would do Knute Rockne proud: "I can do this . . . I'm ready . . . Nothing will stop me now . . . "

When Jenna enters her new office, she is greeted by a pile of cases to work on. Later, she's greeted by Mike Matthews, a handsome senior partner, who "is practically married to the firm." They are both struck dumb after gazing into each other's eyes and experiencing the electric handshake of mutual attraction. Jenna is also befriended by the novel's smartest character, Claudia Roberts.

Claudia is a law partner who becomes her mentor. She warns Jenna that, as a newcomer, she should "want to be noticed by the senior partners, but not as an easy target for their affections. It's hard enough being black and female in a predominately white male firm without asking for trouble."

Mike wants to get to know Jenna better, but understands that she needs time to adjust to the office culture and the demands placed on the firm's new associates. He also doesn't want to be misunderstood and accused of sexual harassment. Mike is content to bide his time, even though Jenna is outwardly ignoring him.

"To her, he was invisible, a piece of office furniture to be circumvented. She efficiently went about her day, treating him as if he were of no more interest to her than the retired senior partner Harvey Bracken who was well into his eighties."

While Jenna may not give him the time of day, she spends time at night thinking of Mike. She doesn't want to be gossiped about at the office, but what Jenna is actually afraid of is the difference in their backgrounds. Mike comes from a socially prominent family. His father is a federal judge. His mother's trademark apricot-enveloped invitations are coveted by the Washington elite. Jenna begins an ongoing "other-side-of-the-tracks" monologue. Until then I had been enjoying the story of this young woman who seemed to have her priorities in order. But Jenna's whining kicked It Had to Be You right out from under me and I fell fast and hard.

Jenna's afraid she won't fit in and often complains that Mike grew up knowing which fork to use and she didn't. She's afraid that Buffy St. Clair and the other Washington socialites can see "the invisible 50 percent off sales tag on her dress." You'd think that Jenna was a 10th-grade dropout working in a fast food restaurant instead of a Harvard-trained lawyer who graduated in the top ten percent of her class.

Claudia reminds her: "Girl, we're black people. At one time or another, all of us started at the bottom and worked our way up." Despite all this angst, she hasn't committed any social or professional faux pas and there's nothing wrong with Jenna that a look at Letitia Baldridge's New Complete Guide to Executive Manners couldn't cure. But nothing can stop her whining. At this point -- within the first 100 pages -- I lost patience with Jenna and It Had to Be You.

Two years and 63 pages after the book began, Jenna is made a partner in the firm. She finally agrees to go out to dinner with Mike to celebrate. The napkin isn't in her lap before she begins her "our lifestyles are too diverse"speech. Mike is undaunted and invites her to his parent's home the following afternoon for a barbecue. Jenna takes time to think, whine and consult with Claudia who reminds her: "It's a cookout. You shouldn't have to worry about which fork to use."

His parents genuinely welcome Jenna, whom their only son introduced as to his mother as "the woman who has stolen my heart." On the way home, the whining begins anew.

On the next day, Jenna and Claudia drive to Baltimore for a neighborhood cookout her parents are having to celebrate her partnership. What Jenna's parents are rich in is love, pride and admiration for their daughter. Courtni Wright skillfully draws the parallels between the Cross and Matthews families so clearly that everyone but Jenna can see them.

A very, very long time after these outings, (or what just may seem like a long time) Jenna and Mike throw caution to the wind and finally get together. Someone must have put Hormone Helper in the water cooler. After that Jenna and Mike are having either sex, thinking about having sex or daydreaming about a previous encounter. They are lawyers and it took me a while to determine what their legal specialities were. They didn't talk about their work much! There is a lot of back story, most of it sexual.

Mike wants to marry Jenna. She's still singing her "poor little poor girl" song. She wants to be a Superior Court judge and can't/won't get married until she does. Jenna offers us no platitudes about how much good she can do or how she can serve others. She wants to be a judge to get some of the things she's never had and to prove "that she could make it in the business world of the rich and famous of the nation's capital." Not very heroic, is it?

Amidst all this angst, a life-and-death situation occurs that brings Mike and Jenna closer. Jenna learns that it doesn't matter what side of the tracks you're born on when you're standing on the tracks and a train is coming. You don't have to be in "Who's Who" to know what's what.

I really wanted to like It Had to Be You, but I didn't.

--Gwendolyn Osborne


@ Please tell us what you think! back Back Home