The Real Deal
by Margaret Johnson-Hodge
(St. Martin's, $5.99, PG) ISBN 0-312-96488-9
**
Can a girl from Harlem find happiness with a boy from Malibu? Margaret Johnson-Hodge offers us The Real Deal.

Samone Lewis is a personnel manager for a small television network in New York. She's in her mid-30s and has just broken up with her boyfriend, banker Maxwell Scutter. After four years, Max has decided he needs some "space." (Please insert the words, "Max is afraid of marriage" here.)

Samone was in the fourth week of post-breakup depression when she called Max. They go to a movie and have a good time. He is seeing someone named "Zen." Max is over-sharing.

"But Samone didn't want to hear the truth. She wanted secrets. She wanted lies and myths. She wanted whoever Max was seeing to remain nameless and faceless, `out there' somewhere."

After Max's revelation, the evening is over and Samone's post-breakup depression continues.

Enter Jonathon Everette. Jon is a producer who has come to New York from California to find television work. A headhunting firm forwards his resume to Samone. During his job interview, Jon is immediately taken with Samone and invites her to lunch. She is what he's looking for. The feeling is not mutual.

Jon is a lot of things that Max is not, including white. Samone initially has no interest in seeing Jon, or any other white man for that matter. But Jon is so sincere and persistent, he grows on her. Besides, the network hires him and they now work in the same building.

They eventually do lunch...and a lot more.

"Jonathon Everette. The most unwhite white man Samone had ever known. The only one she'd allowed into her world. She didn't tell anyone. Not her parents. Not Pat. John was her little secret..."

The Real Deal is a typical story about interracial relationships. One or both lovers thinks the relationship has a chance to work because love is color-blind. There is requisite opposition from family, friends and associates. As long as the couple is alone together, everything is fine. It's when they try to exist outside their private cocoon, that problems arise.

It is also a story about love on the rebound. Throughout the course of the novel, Samone ping-pongs her way between Max and Jon. Samone loves Max, but can't have him. And, as the song says, "If you can't be with the one you love, then love the one you're with."

Samone has some issues that transcend race. She is emotionally needy. At one point, she has to go to California for "a break." But it's apparent that Jon and Samone do love each other in their own way.

The Real Deal is a love story but I'm not totally convinced it's a romance novel. That's because The Real Deal ends on a somewhat murky note. I'm not sure where Samone and Jon will be in their relationship six months hence and whether Jon is "Mr. Right" or "Mr. Right Now."

--Gwendolyn Osborne


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