Reading a Terry McMillan book feels like catching up with an old friend. Her characters are complex, witty, relatable, and steeped in reality. For nearly thirty years, McMillan has created some of the most memorable Black women characters in bestsellers like Waiting to Exhale, How Stella Got Her Groove Back, Disappearing Acts, and A Day Late and A Dollar Short.
With her new novel, I Almost Forgot About You, McMillan unveils yet another character whose journey reveals lessons on love, courage, change and the complexities of aging. What does a wonderful life look like? Is a great career enough? Are supportive friends and family all you need? And what exactly does it mean to grow older? These questions all come up as in McMillan’s novel as her characters try to deal with the curveballs life throws their way.
In I Almost Forgot About You, Dr. Georgia Young is a twice-divorced nearly fifty-four year-old optometrist with thriving practice in San Francisco and two adults daughters off living their own lives. While Georgia has all of the trappings of success, she’s also full of regrets. When the daughter of a man she once loved, but never had the courage to tell, reveals that he’s died, Georgia decides it’s time she made some changes in her own life. On a whim, she resolves to sell her house and switch careers, but where she’ll go and what she’ll do is a mystery. Also, approaching her mid-50s and living alone, Georgia decides to look up every man she’s ever loved. Georgia’s resolution becomes a recipe for resilience and the art of letting go. With each encounter, she begins to gain closure by understanding her part in the dissolution of the relationship, but most importantly, she gets some much-needed answers, too.
“There are millions of women and men who live an unexamined life. I gave Georgia the capacity to live a good life. We all have the right to be happy,” McMillan told EBONY.com. When Georgia decides she’ll take a trek across Canada by train she unknowingly opens the floodgates for those around her to begin their own journey of reinvention as well.
Her youngest daughter, Frankie, decides to come back home to mend a broken heart, while her oldest daughter, Estelle, is faced with a reality she has tried to ignore for far too long. Georgia’s best friend Wanda may be relocating to a new city, and her closest friend, Violet, has to finally come to terms with years of irresponsibility and enabling. And then there is Georgia’s mother, who has just found happiness again at 82-years-old.
When I asked McMillan how it important it was for others to play a part in Georgia’s reinvention her answer was simple, “I don’t think it was important at all. She is just grateful for the support. They were also reinventing themselves and not seeking approval. That is the best [part] of aging.”
McMillan’s writing has always been bold and clever when presenting subjects that most would deem sensitive. Though much of the novel is lighthearted, she is intent on making points about race and sexuality as well. There are moments in the novel where these two subjects are presented in a way that shows how important it is to simply be you.
“Everybody has a right to be who they are,” McMillan said, noting her mother encouraged her to be a writer and stressed the importance of education. “It’s about sexuality, race and all of the above. The bottom line is that we are all the same.”
McMillan has been through her fair share of challenges, including a very public divorce from her ex-husband Jonathan Plummer and growing up in poverty.
“I grew up in a small town north of Detroit and sometimes we had no electricity or any heat. I didn’t grow up with educated parents. My mother only went as far as the 11th grade, and had 5 kids by the time she was 23. I’m the oldest. I knew I was not going to end up like my mother and my mother made sure of that,” McMillan explained. “She said I’m not raising any dummies and everybody in this house is going to college. That was in the ‘50s and life was completely different if you were Black back then. I think I got some of her chutzpah, so I knew I wasn’t going to grow up the way everybody around me did. I knew life had a whole lot more to offer than I was seeing.”
While McMillan is a survivor like the book’s main character, the author made it clear this novel isn’t autobiographical. Still, the novelist wanted to remind her fans it’s not too late to chart a different course in life.
“No matter where you are, you can always start over. If you find that what you are doing today is not what you want to do then start over and you can keep starting over.”
Displaying a range of emotions, I Almost Forgot About You is a book that is important for readers of every age. Before reading this novel, the “you” in the title may be up for discussion, but in the end, it’s clear McMillan wants readers to look within to find the answers they needed all along.