Seeking Sarah

A Novel

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About The Book

From the national bestselling and award-winning ReShonda Tate Billingsley comes this gripping and emotional exploration of the complex bond between mother and daughter.

From the time Brooke Green was seven years old, she has lived with the pain of losing her mother. Her father has done the best job he could in raising her, but a piece of her always felt empty. On the day of her father’s funeral, her grandmother breaks the shocking news: her mother, Sarah, is very much alive. She abandoned her family because she claimed she wasn’t fit for motherhood. After doing some research, Brooke discovers her mother is living in Atlanta, enjoying a great career…and a brand new family. Stunned, Brooke doesn’t know if she wants answers or revenge against the mother who abandoned her. When she meets Sarah’s husband, Tony, Brooke sees the perfect way to make her mother pay. But her plan for revenge just may leave everyone in danger, and end up costing Brooke more than she ever bargained for.

Excerpt

Seeking Sarah CHAPTER 1
Yes! Yes, I’ll marry you!

The words swirled around in my head, dancing with excitement at the prospect of marrying the man I love. The perfect proposal. The perfect man. All the ingredients for a dream come true.

But for some reason, while the words were vibrant in my mind, they wouldn’t come out of my mouth.

Good grief, woman, just say yes!

That little voice that had planned my proposal and subsequent wedding when I was only ten years old and marrying my imaginary boyfriend was in full what-the-hell-is-wrong-with-you mode.

Just say yes.

Still nothing.

I don’t know what was wrong with me. If you asked most women to draft a list of the qualities they wanted in their dream man, Trent Grant would probably meet 99 percent of the requirements on their list. Trent had dabbled in modeling in college and despite an offer from a New York modeling agency, he had opted to go into the Navy instead. He’d served eight years as a sergeant and returned to Raleigh as one of the most sought-after bachelors in town. And he wanted a life with me. And I wanted a life with him. Only my mouth wouldn’t open to say yes.

I knew my fear was based on the fact that Trent wanted forever and I’d learned long ago that forever didn’t exist. And committing to a lifetime was only setting myself up for heartbreak, something I’d vowed I would never let happen again.

“Wow, soooo, is that a no?” Trent asked, as he knelt in front of me. Just the thought seemed to crush his spirit. His thousand-watt smile had morphed into a frown. “You don’t want to be Mrs. Grant?”

The piercing gaze of all of our family and friends reminded me that we weren’t alone. There had to be twenty-five people in the private dining room at Ruth’s Chris Steak House, all of them waiting on my answer. The room had grown deathly silent. The only noise was the slow trickle of the April showers beating down on the roof. The smiles that just seconds ago were beaming now bore hints of nervousness.

I snapped my attention back to the man in front of me. I did want marriage. I did want happily ever after. I just didn’t believe that such a thing was possible.

Still, I managed a smile and said, “O-of course. Of course, I’ll marry you.”

A relieved applause erupted in the room as Trent slid the three-carat ring onto my finger. It was beautiful and I hated that this experience had been marred by my hesitation. If Trent was upset by my delayed response, he didn’t let on. Instead, he stood, then pulled me into him with a force that told everyone just how happy he was.

Trent wrapped his muscular arms tighter around me. Over his shoulder, I saw my father beaming with pride. I thought we’d gathered at this dinner party to celebrate Trent being awarded the North Carolina Man of the Year by the League of Distinguished Men. This proposal was a complete surprise. We’d talked about getting married—one day. I had no idea that day would happen so soon. But apparently Trent and my cousin April had been working overtime to plan a surprise engagement party.

For Trent, we might as well have been the only two people in the room. He lifted my chin and the love I saw in his eyes made any reservations I might have been feeling evaporate instantly.

“I swear, Brooke, I want to spend a lifetime making you the happiest woman in the world,” he whispered.

I smiled, but didn’t reply. Don’t get me wrong, I was happy. Very. I loved Trent. But as I fingered the two rings on my necklace, I remembered the two loves I’d lost, and fear suffocated my excitement.

As Trent basked in congratulatory greetings, I continued fingering the rings—my mother’s wedding ring, which my dad had presented to me on my sixteenth birthday, and an engagement ring from Jared, the only other man I’d ever loved. I wore both faithfully on a small gold chain around my neck.

Several people came over to congratulate me: my friends, my coworkers from the public-relations agency where I worked as a publicist for celebrity clients, and a few of Trent’s family members.

My father approached us, the pride on his face his stamp of approval. “You know I’m expecting you to take good care of my baby girl,” he said to Trent.

I couldn’t help but marvel at how handsome my father was. His silver hair was a stark contrast to his smooth, dark skin. It was hard to believe he hadn’t remarried after all these years, but it wasn’t for a lack of offers. Like me, he had never completely healed from my mother’s death.

“Awww, Mr. Hayes, you don’t have to worry,” Trent said, taking my hand until we were fully intertwined. “I promise you, she’s in good hands.”

“I know that, son.” My dad patted Trent on his back. “And you come from good stock, so I know you understand that marriage is supposed to be forever.”

I forced a smile at my father. He was always talking about how life had robbed him of his forever. My mother had died when I was seven, so my father harbored some bitterness that kept him from finding love again. I guess losing her had tainted me, too. Because growing up, while I dreamed of my wedding, I hadn’t been too psyched about marriage. Then my heart betrayed me and let Jared in.

We’d met at freshman orientation at North Carolina A&T University. Though we’d dated all four years of college, I wasn’t one of those girls who were planning their happily-ever-afters. Then, on my twenty-second birthday, I’d let Jared convince me in forever. I agreed to marry him. And three weeks before our wedding, Jared was killed by a carjacker.

The therapist that I’d started seeing after Jared’s death eventually helped me to heal my heart, but it hadn’t destroyed the belief that the people you love most always leave.

Trent’s mother tapped her fork against her champagne glass, snapping my attention to the front of the room, where she was standing.

“May I have your attention please?” The chatter that filled the air slowly trickled down as we turned our attention to the poised, bubbly, petite woman at the front of the room. “For those of you who don’t know me, I’m Loretha Grant, Trent’s mother. I have known Brooke for four years, since my son came over, marveling about the woman he met at Outback Steakhouse.” She turned to smile my way. “I don’t think you know this, but my son was actually on a date with some scallywag.”

“Mama!” Trent admonished.

Mrs. Grant waved him off. “I didn’t like that girl, but Trent was always hardheaded.”

“Is there a point to this story, Mama?” Trent’s brother, Clark, called out as the room erupted in laughter.

“Hush, boy, and let me finish,” she said. She turned her attention back to me. “Anyway, he told me that night that he tore up the scallywag’s number because he’d met his wife. Of course, I didn’t believe him, but I know my son, when he wants something, he goes after it. And he wanted you, Brooke Hayes.”

Trent pulled me closer to him. “And I got her,” he mumbled.

“And I’m so glad you did.” Mrs. Grant raised her glass in a toast. “Brooke, I can’t wait for you to become my daughter-in-law,” she said. “I know you lost your mother when you were just a little girl, but I hope that you will see me as a second mother. To the happy couple.”

I struggled to keep my smile as everyone raised their glasses in celebration. I liked Mrs. Grant, I really did. But she would never understand the depth of the love I had for my mother. And no one, not even her, would ever be able to replace that.

Trent pulled me to him and called out to his mother. “Don’t worry about that, Ma. I got her. And I have enough love that she won’t miss a thing.”

That made his mother smile even wider, and though I felt a piercing knot in my stomach, I smiled, too, and snuggled closer to my soon-to-be husband, hoping that he was right.

Reading Group Guide

This readers group guide for Seeking Sarah includes an introduction, discussion questions, and ideas for enhancing your book club. The suggested questions are intended to help your reading group find new and interesting angles and topics for your discussion. We hope that these ideas will enrich your conversation and increase your enjoyment of the book.

Introduction

Brooke Green has been motherless since she was seven years old. Growing up with her loving father, a piece of Brooke had always felt missing, lost long ago on the day of her mother’s death. Now, in her midthirties, Brooke finds herself drowning in grief after her father succumbs to a stroke. But in the wake of losing a parent, Brooke shockingly regains another when she learns a startling truth that changes her life forever: her mother, Sarah, is very much alive. At her father’s funeral, Brooke’s grandmother reveals that Sarah had walked out on her family amid claims that she wasn’t fit for motherhood; her father lied about Sarah’s death in an attempt to protect Brooke. In search of more details, Brooke hires a PI to track Sarah down and discovers that her mother is now working as an elementary school principal in Atlanta, and happily raising another daughter. Stunned, Brooke is torn between her desire for answers and her thirst for revenge against the mother who abandoned her. Bestselling author ReShonda Tate Billingsley delves into the complicated, emotional, and often painful mother-daughter bond in her gripping novel Seeking Sarah.

Topics and Questions for Discussion

1. When we first meet Brooke, we learn that she has already lost both a mother and a fiancé, leaving her convinced that, when it comes to love, “forever didn’t exist” (p. 2). Discuss the character of Brooke in these early scenes: a woman who’s both emotionally hardened and emotionally vulnerable. Do you relate to her, and in what way?

2. Brooke wears two rings around her neck: her mother’s wedding ring, and her engagement ring from Jared. What symbols or mementos do you wear, carry with you, or display in your home that represent people you love?

3. Brooke’s flashbacks consistently return her to emotionally painful moments featuring her mother—those instances of turmoil seem to be her most distilled memories. Why do you think these are the memories that begin resurfacing for Brooke? On a narrative level, how do these scenes hint at the reasons behind Sarah’s decision to flee?

4. Brooke struggles to wrap her mind around the truth about her mother, thinking: “I had heard stories of back in the day, fathers who went to the store for bread and never returned. But this, a mother abandoning a child? That was insane. Mothers don’t abandon their children” (p. 47). In what way would this story be different if it were a father-daughter story rather than a mother-daughter story? Why does a mother’s abandonment cut so much deeper?

5. One of the tensest scenes from the first act of the novel is Brooke’s dinner with Trent, when she tells him about the private investigator (and the accompanying price tag). Trent is obviously affected by this decision. What was your reaction to this scene? Do you think his reaction was justified? Explain your reasoning.

6. When Brooke finds out her mother’s name and location, what did you anticipate would happen next? What action did you envision her taking? What action would you have taken if you were Brooke, armed with that information?

7. Brooke is heartbroken upon realizing that, in her words, “the man I loved was the biggest obstacle to reuniting with my mother” (p. 100). Do you sympathize with Trent’s refusal to support Brooke’s move to Atlanta? Why or why not?

8. Brooke learns that Sarah Ford now works as an elementary school principal—does that job title surprise you?

9. Identify and discuss the moment (or moments) when Brooke’s desire to get to know her mother transforms into a thirst for revenge instead. Do you relate to that delicate balance between sadness and anger that Brooke is grappling with?

10. As Brooke spends more time in Atlanta, she fully inhabits three different identities: Mona, Meredith, and Brooke. As tension mounts, Brooke thinks, “I felt like I was swimming in a cesspool of lies” (p. 182). Do these lies create a protective shield that empowers Brooke to take bold action, or is she losing her “true self” in this web of lies?

11. Describe your reaction to Brooke’s decision to seduce her mother’s husband. In your opinion, does she take her “revenge mission” too far?

12. On page 242, Nina’s assistant, Amiya, comments, “Revenge is a confession of pain.” Even though Amiya is trying to talk sense into her boss, the statement resonates with Brooke. How could these wise words reframe the way you view Brooke’s actions against her mother?

13. Before the novel’s dramatic climax, was there a moment when you sensed that Alex could be dangerous? If so, describe the scene or interaction that first revealed another side of this troubled character.

14. Increasingly complicated dynamics play out among Brooke, Sarah, Anthony, Alex, and Trent in this novel, especially in the final chapters. Ultimately, who do you see as the novel’s “villain,” if anyone?

15. The novel ends on a note of hope, as Brooke is embarking on her own motherhood journey. How do you think the experiences of the novel will shape Brooke and inform her decisions as a mother?

16. In her “Note from the Author,” ReShonda Tate Billingsley explains that “at its core, Seeking Sarah is a story about finding something you so desperately crave, and losing yourself in the process” (p. 276). In what way does Brooke lose herself, and, in your opinion, does she ultimately find herself again?

Enhance Your Book Club

1. This novel predominantly takes place in Atlanta, Georgia. In honor of the book’s setting, serve up cocktails that capture the flavor of the Peach State, such as peach sangria or a peach Bellini. You can make a peach Bellini by simply combining frozen peaches with your preferred sparkling white wine, plus a splash of peach schnapps and some ice. Blend your concoction before serving!

2. Tyler Perry’s 2007 film Daddy’s Little Girls explores similar themes to those in Seeking Sarah. Host a screening of the movie, which stars Idris Elba and Gabrielle Union, before your book club meeting. Discuss how the depiction of the mother in this film compares with ReShonda Tate Billingsley’s complicated take on motherhood.

3. Brooke revisits the pain of growing up motherless by reading old letters that she wrote to Sarah, describing the struggles of her adolescence. Ask each member of your book club to bring an old letter, journal, diary entry, or even social media post to your discussion. Share these snapshots of your youth—whether painful or humorous—and discuss how your mother (or a mother figure) helped you navigate the issue or situation in question.

4. The first book that Alex recommends to Brooke is Child of God by Lolita Files, which tells the story of a Southern family torn apart by the secrets it struggles to keep. Read this novel in conjunction with Seeking Sarah, and compare and contrast the complex family dynamics portrayed in both books.

About The Author

Photograph by Rochelle Scott

ReShonda Tate Billingsley’s #1 national bestselling novels include Let the Church Say Amen, I Know I’ve Been Changed, and Say Amen, Again, winner of the NAACP Image Award for Outstanding Literary Work. Her collaboration with Victoria Christopher Murray has produced four hit novels, Sinners & Saints, Friends & Foes, A Blessing and a Curse, and Fortune & Fame.  BET released a movie in 2013 based on ReShonda’s book Let the Church Say Amen in which she had a minor role . She also had a role in the made-for-TV movie The Secret She Kept based on her book of the same title. Visit ReShondaTateBillingsley.com, meet the author on Facebook at ReShondaTateBillingsley, or follow her on Twitter @Reshondat.

Product Details

  • Publisher: Gallery Books (August 2017)
  • Length: 304 pages
  • ISBN13: 9781501156625

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