I don't know when I would have picked up on the fact that everyone in the book is black, given that I knew that Cleage was black coming in. It was also really interesting reading this during Intl. Blog Against Racism Week, particularly because black was the default.
Joyce Mitchell lost her husband five years ago; she misses him, but she runs the Circus, a group that tries to help young women, often single mothers, become "free women." Naturally, given that this is marketed as chick lit, Nate Anderson comes in.
What I liked best about this was that it may be the most psychologically realistic romance I've read in a long time. I love that Joyce has her own life, that she loved her husband very much and still misses him, that she has the Circus, friends, goals, ambitions. Of course, many contemporary romance heroines do as well, but Joyce's feel so integrated into her life. Much of this is probably because Cleage dedicates more time to the Circus than to Nate, but I liked that.
I liked that all the girls in the Circus were different and distinct; they had their own strengths and weaknesses. Tomika in particular is awesome. I also like how race is involved in every aspect of the book, but it's natural, because that's what these people have to think about.
But! I think my absolute favorite part was how Cleage handled the relationship between Joyce and Nate. Joyce is an avowed feminist; she is anti-racist and activist about it. And while Nate is a fairly "enlightened" man, he still makes mistakes and steps on some of her toes ("Are you a separatist?" he asks her, when she specifies that the Circus is a female-only space). And Joyce has to deal with this well-meaning rebuttal to what she's doing. I wish that I could handle things in the way that she does; she knows precisely what she isn't willing to give up in life, and she's not going to compromise on those things.
The climax of the book didn't quite work as well for me, given that it seemed to contradict some of the things Cleage was writing about earlier on, about protection and men and women and the well-meaning but sometimes insulting desire to protect a woman.
All in all, very good, and I'm going to be looking for more of Cleage's books.