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“I have no pride. I tell anything,” Jill Conner Browne is fond of saying. As Her Royal Highness, Boss Queen of the Sweet Potato Queens,® she has told legions of fans, known as “SPQ Wannabes,” her delectable secrets to living, loving—and eating—like a queen. In her words, “More is more.”
How much more? The #1 New York Times bestselling author of five works of nonfiction now serves up The Sweet Potato Queens’ First Big-Ass Novel: Stuff We Didn’t Actually Do, But Could Have, and May Yet. The humor in this uproarious coming-of-queen novel is more delicious than a favorite dessert (the Queens favor Chocolate Stuff™, of course).
In Jackson, Mississippi, Mary Bennett, Patsy, Gerald, and Jill are high school classmates whose daily routine is paced like a shuffle through the local red dirt—until the arrival of a redheaded newcomer banishes monotony forever. With her luxurious mane and voluptuous figure, Tammy Myers aspires to join the silver-spooners, who make things happen in their lives. When Jill convinces Tammy and the others that money might buy a certain kind of good time and that true friendship has no price tag, the “Sweet Potato Queens” are born. “If it ain’t fun, we ain’t doin’ it,” runs their official club motto, and the Queens are true to their word.
Together, the Queens laugh out loud as they step down the long—and not altogether pretty—road toward making their very own queen dust, the sparkle that comes from livin’ and lovin’ their own lives. The Sweet Potato Queens’ First Big-Ass Novel: Stuff We Didn’t Actually Do, But Could Have, and May Yet reveals that the journey isn’t always easy, but in the company of the Queens, you can sparkle, too.
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Jill Conner Browne, New York Times bestselling author and Boss Queen, tours and speaks full-time about all things Queenly. She is the author of The Sweet Potato Queens’ First Big-Ass Novel; The Sweet Potato Queens’ Wedding Planner/Divorce Guide; The Sweet Potato Queens’ Field Guide to Men: Every Man I Love Is Either Married, Gay, or Dead; The Sweet Potato Queens’ Big-Ass Cookbook (and Financial Planner); God Save the Sweet Potato Queens; and The Sweet Potato Queens’ Book of Love. She lives in Jackson, Mississippi.Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:
In Jackson, the "beautiful people" were separated from the great unwashed by a short strip of blacktop called Yazoo Road. If you lived north of Yazoo, like Marcy Stevens did, you peed champagne and blew your nose in silk. If you lived south -- as I did -- you peed Dixie Beer and blew your nose in burlap. We were shit. They were Shinola.
By my junior year at Peebles High, I had finished metamorphosing and was looking just fine, pretty even, when I was stopped in my tracks by a veritable vision. There, in the halls of my humble high school, stood the woman who, if God had loved me just a little bit better, would have been reflected in my mirror every morning. The tiny creature had a massive mane of red hair and big breasts. I still covet it all -- the tits, the tininess, and oh, mercy, that fabulous hair. All of her wondrous voluptuousness was supported by the most precious little feet you could ever imagine. She was so pretty and delicate I figured she likely hailed from the snooty part of town.
Red hadn't noticed me gaping at her, because she was struggling mightily with her locker. She gave the combination lock one last turn and when she couldn't open it, a not-so-nice word spewed from her Cupid's-bow lips.
"Durn" and "heckfire" were two acceptable cusswords for all but the overly Baptist kids. There was also the frequently used "shoot," which Southerners drawl into the longest word in the English language (shooooooooooooooooooooooooooot!). And even though most folks knew that "shoot" was just "shit" with eyeglasses on, you could get away with saying it during those innocent times as long as your granny wasn't in the same room.
But little Miss Tiny Feet wasn't "durning," "heckfiring," or even "shooting," she was using the granddaddy of all curse words. (The one we solemnly referred to as the "fire truck" word because it started and ended with the same letters.)
Even a potty-mouth like myself respected the F-word as cussing's fine china: I only drug it out for very special occasions. But Little Miss Redhead was saying it over and over. Maybe she wasn't quite the rich-girl-china-doll she appeared to be at first glance.
As I got closer, I also noticed her clothes were completely wrong. She wore the snob-city uniform of a twin set and skirt, but her sweater was a bit too tight and there were picks and pulls -- signs of repeated wearings -- in the Banlon knit. The silver-spooners wore perfectly smooth Breck girl flips and pageboys, but her hair was big -- too big, and teased up like a red space helmet -- and her blush and powder was a half inch thick.
"You new here?" I asked her. "Seems like you're having some trouble."
"I can't get in my fuckin' locker," she said with a sigh when she saw it was just big ol' me. "I tried, and now I'm fucking late for home ec."
"Why don't you let me give it a spin?" I offered, marveling at the fire trucks flying out of her lacquered lips.
She gratefully handed me her combination, and I took to twirling the dial until the locker popped open. Inside was a photo of the Beatles, a smiley-face sticker, and a textbook called Adventures in Home Living.
"Thank you so much!" she said. "My name's Tammy."
"Nice to meet you, Jill. I just moved here from Killeen, Texas, and don't know a fuckin' soul." She pointed to a poster on the wall that read "Key Club Information Meeting at 2 p.m. today in the gym. Open to All Interested High School Girls." "I was thinking I'd join this. Are you going?" she asked with what would have been a beautifully executed hair toss except that not a single one of her heavily Aqua-Netted hairs moved from its appointed spot in her coiffure.
"No," I said, quickly.
"I wouldn't fit in. It's mostly for girls who live north of Yazoo Road," I said, hoping she'd take the hint.
"It says it's 'open to all high school girls,'" Tammy said.
"They have to say that 'cause the first meeting is held on school property, but they're very particular in their membership. Their favorite activity is listing all the people who they WON'T let join."
"Well, lucky for me I do live north of Yazoo Road," she said with a smile. "Guess I better get to class. Thanks so much for helping me, Jill."
I'd heard they had some mighty big hair out in Texas, but a style like Tammy's wouldn't get her into the Key Club. And the first time she let fly with a fire truck, they'd fall over in a faint -- or pretend to, anyway.
Our lunch group was no Key Club. We ate outside on the steps of the vocational building. I settled beside Mary Bennett, who had a pronounced Southern accent. Where one syllable would do, she used three, saying my name so it came out like "Ji-ay-all." Bennett wasn't Mary's last name. It was part of her first name, kinda like Billie Sue or Betty Lou.
Unlike the rest of our lunchmates, Mary Bennett lived north of Yazoo Road in a sprawling English Tudor, and if it weren't for a tiny little problem of hers, she'd be having her pimento cheese sandwich (or "sammich," as we say in the South) and bottle of grape Nehi under the cool shade of a large magnolia tree with the other silver-spooners instead of shuffling around in the red dirt with us.
Back then, when people talked about Mary Bennett -- and Lord knows they did -- they would say (with an appropriately breathless whisper) that she had a rep-u-tay-shun: She was Fast -- which, by the litmus test for Whoredom at Peebles, meant she'd made out with more than five boys and not only KNEW what all the Bases were, it was rumored that she'd been to some of them. Plus, she had pierced ears, and our mamas assured us that "only whores had pierced ears." We all wanted them, naturally.
"Can I help it if I have a strong sex-shu-al appetite?" she'd say, hand pressed against her chest in an aggrieved manner.
I was unwrapping my sandwich when Mary Bennett sniffed her armpits.
"I think I need to have me a little whore's bath."
"Every bath you take's a whore's bath, Mary Bennett," Gerald said, nibbling primly on the last bit of his PB&J on white bread. Gerald had unruly, wiry hair, which he slathered with a combination of hair relaxer and Brylcreem; his attempt at a "hairstyle" looked sorta like Buckwheat's -- with a side of scented Crisco.
Mary Bennett grinned. She had one of those lazy, sexy smiles, which opened slowly like a bud blooming in slow-motion photography.
"Aren't you sharp on the uptake this afternoon, Geraldine," she said with a low chuckle. "Maybe you'd like to give me that bath?"
"I'd be honored," Gerald said, blowing her a kiss. He had the longest eyelashes I'd ever seen on a boy.
That was part of their routine. Mary Bennett propositioned Gerald, and Gerald acted as if he were happy to oblige her. Nothing ever came of it.
Mary Bennett opened her sandwich and poked her nose inside. "I'm so tired of pimento cheese. Whatcha got, Jill?"
"BLT," I said, holding my bag close to my body. "But you'll have to kill me for my bacon."
She jerked her head in Patsy's direction. "Hey, Swiss Miss! You got anything edible in that sack?"
"Sardines," Patsy said with a nod. Patsy still possessed the same round face she'd had since we were in first grade, with porcelain skin, enormous blue eyes, and genuine natural-blond hair, courtesy of her Scandinavian mama.
"That ain't nothin' to be braggin' about," Mary Bennett said.
"By the way," Patsy said. "Have you guys -- "
"How many times do I have to tell you? It's y'all." Mary Bennett stretched out the last word so it lasted several seconds on her tongue. She cupped her smallish breasts. "Do I look like a guy to you? What in the hell is going on up there in Montana? They think everyone is a guy?"
"My daddy's a guy and he's from Hot Coffee, Mississippi," said Patsy, in a huff. "My MAMA is from MINNESOTA."
"Same damn thing," Mary Bennett said.
"Would you just let the poor girl talk?" Gerald said.
"Chirp away," Mary Bennett said with a bored wave of her hand.
"I was wondering if you guys . . . I mean, y'all, have met that new girl, Tammy," Patsy said. "I was going to ask her to have lunch with us tomorrow."
Her "y'all" came out as "yuall," a mispronunciation Mary Bennett acknowledged with an aggravated eye roll.
"I talked to her for a minute," I said, brushing crumbs from my skirt. "Says she just moved here from Texas, and that she lives north of Yazoo Road, but she didn't seem the type."
Gerald rolled up his brown paper sack into a small, neat package and gently placed it in a nearby wire trash can. "Oh, she lives north of Yazoo Road, all right," he said, his lips pursed as if holding in a delicious piece of gossip. "I overheard Marcy talking about it in study hall. I sit right next to her, and get to eavesdrop on all her conversations."
That wasn't hard to believe. Marcy and her friends wouldn't pay any attention to a skinny Jewish boy like Gerald.
"It just so happens that Tammy lives with her mother, who is the new housekeeper for the Peterson family on Marcy's street," Gerald said, in a low, secretive voice. "She lives in the converted carriage house behind the main house."
Tammy was the daughter of a maid? There was no lower ranking in our school's social strata.
"Oh Lord," I said, biting my bottom lip. "She mentioned she was going to try and join the Key Club today. I tried to discourage her, but she insisted."
My news stunned us into silence, as we all imagined Tammy's dreadful fate.
"She was such a pretty girl," Gerald said solemnly, as if delivering her eulogy.
Mary Bennett fanned her face with a napkin and said, "Those monsters will eat her alive. Her ass is grass."
The next day I nearly fell out when I spotted Marcy and Tammy in the hall, walking arm in arm like sisters.
"Hey there, Jill," Tammy said. I noticed she was wearing the same skirt as yesterday, which is a fashion felony with Marcy's crowd. "I wanted to thank you again for opening my locker for me. You saved my life." She turned to Marcy. "Do you and Jill know each other?"
"Of course we do," Marcy said. Her smile was blinding, her hair gleamed platinum, and even the...
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