Gloria is sixteen when she and her younger sister Marcia leave country living for the big city after Marcia is attacked. Life in Jamaica is made harder after Gloria kills a man for trying to assault Marcia the girls decide they can't stay. When Gloria saw what was happening to her sister, she bashed his head in. He was evil and had already raped Gloria. No way she was going to let him get at her baby sister too.
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The law is no help to poor black girls in 1938 in rural Jamaica, and Gloria's mother already blames Gloria for the abuse she suffered at fourteen from the bad man.
The girls leave with only an address and name of their mother's friend. When they arrive tin the city they find their mother's friend living in what is no larger than a broom closet with a dirt floor. She doesn't make them feel all that welcome. Gloria sleeps on a small bed being pushed up against the wall by the other woman's body. Marcia doesn't fare much better, her bed is the dirt floor where she tries to stretch her limbs out under a small table, which is the only piece of furniture in the room besides the cot. Living with their mother's friend who they are told to call “Auntie” is hard she is mean, verbally abusive and constantly complains.
Auntie decides that three people in her small space is something she can't have. Gloria gets a job with a local Chinese store and helps Marcia find service work as a domestic for a well-to-do but abusive family. Gloria saves her money and visits her sister on Sundays. Gloria soon learns from Marcia that the family she works for is verbally and emotionally abusive. The mother and children berate her at every turn, and the father makes passes at her. She informs Gloria that she can't stay there safely. Her boss threatens to fire her if she won't sleep with him. .
Gloria is led to a boarding house by Henry Wong, another Chinese store owner who sees something in Gloria, that reminds him of his daughter Faye. He and Faye share an extremely turbulent relationship. She is spoiled and knows that Henry is not her birth father. Wong tries to get to know Gloria and looks out for her as much as she will allow. The boarding house owner is a friend of Wong's, and is run by Miss. Sissy an older Jamaican woman who does not put up with a lot of nonsense. When Marcia has no where to go once she is released from service, Marcia moves in with Gloria and they share the room rental. Soon Marcia is hanging with the young women across the street instead of going to school while Gloria works.
Bethyl and Sybil live across the street and don't have regular jobs, they entertain men for pay. They pay their own bills and are able to eat what they like making their own rules. Marcia sees this as the good life and hangs out with them daily playing dancing and drinking. Marcia refuses to listen to her sister's advice to stay on the path of a decent job and school. Gloria agrees to meet the women and take them up on their invitation to dinner.
Eventually she moves in with them along with Marcia when she is downsized from her job at the store. At first, she refuses to sleep with the men for money, but it seems inevitable in that environment. One of the regulars Yang Pao, is a muscle man for Mr. Wong. He, Wong, and Gloria go into business together loaning money to local men who like to sleep with women on a regular basis but don't always have the money to pay.
Overtime a deep friendship develops between the women living and working together. They are whatever they have. Pao develops a deep crush on Gloria and hangs around the house volunteering to fix things so he can be near Gloria.
Gloria is never able to relax knowing that the country side police are probably looking for two “teen age girl” who fled after a man died from having his head busted open.
Sybil gets involved in feminist politics and becomes a freedom fighter for a new Jamaica. Beryl teaches children at a local orphanage to read, volunteering her time once a week. Marcia falls in love with a feminist writer from the states. Gloria knows Pao is in love with her, but can't open her heart to anything but a physical relationship, one in which he pays. Pao, is pursued by one Faye Wong, marries her and has two children with her. Gloria is hurt.
She accompanies Sybil to Cuba and falls in love with a freedom fighter, but when he pursues her she pushes him away. Still scarred from the dead man who took her virginity and tried to take Marcia's. Gloria is really good with money and it is easy to see that her confidence continues' to grow even though she won't let love inside.
She and Wong develop a deeper friendship and he turns to Gloria when he can't talk to his overbearing African wife who is obsessed with having more money, even though the couple is filthy rich.
Gloria continues to grow her knowledge in politics working alongside Sybil. When she becomes pregnant with her and Pao's daughter she decides to keep her (abortions were still illegal). Pao, who still has a hard time communicating and is married to Faye has a very hard time developing a relationship with his daughter.
Faye moves to Europe taking her and Pao's children away. Pao tries to drink his misery away. He and Gloria become deeper friends in her efforts to help him to get a grip on life. Her mother visits and she learns that her birth mother is Auntie, the same woman who was so mean to her and Marcia when they first arrived from the countryside.
Auntie falls in love with the baby (her grand daughter) and does all she can to be a better towards her than she was to Gloria.
Gloria and Marcia return to the country when Marcia's mother is on her death bed and Gloria learns who her real father is. The new information helps her to heal. She still won't return the calls from her ex-lover in Cuba, she falls instead for Henry Wong. Wong and his wife Cecelia have a long and tumultuous marriage but he refuses to sully Gloria. When he takes ill, he leaves her much of his estate and thanks her for over twenty years of friendships.
Pao gets his act together and though still quiet when it comes to he and Gloria's daughter they do develop a relationship. He is proud of her school accomplishments and supports her however he can, without drinking. Gloria is a strong woman, who touches those she comes into contact with in a good way. The book spans thirty years of friendship, love, and secrets that come to light.
Best part of story, including ending:
I liked that Gloria was strong enough to handle all the horrible things that she was faced with.
Best scene in story:
My favorite scene was when Gloria and Faye had a face-to-face about each other and Pao.
Opinion about the main character:
What I liked most about Gloria was that she took care of business and loved her daughter.