Monday, April 29, 2013

Joshilyn Jackson

Review by Kristin

Joshilyn Jackson first caught my attention though the recommendation of a librarian friend in small town Georgia.  I was a Yankee newly transplanted to the South and was enjoying learning about my new environment through books, as well as “real life” in a town of about 4,000 people.  Jackson writes in a way that shows her love of the South, as cracked and damaged as the characters in her stories may be.

I have heard Jackson speak a couple of times, and the most significant thing I heard was that her books are all about redemption.  Sure, people mess up, hurt other people, lie, cheat, steal, and even kill.  In Jackson’s books, the road may be long and her characters may have a whole lot of life thrown at them, but the plot is always resolved with the redemption of those characters that the readers have come to love.

Jackson may also be the queen of first lines.  A Grown-up Kind of Pretty starts with:  “My daughter, Liza, put her heart in a silver box and buried it under the willow tree in our backyard.”  And I’m not sure there is any topping gods in Alabama’s beginning line: “There are gods in Alabama: Jack Daniel’s, high school quarterbacks, trucks, big tits, and also Jesus…”

That brings me to the PG-13 warning.  While the books are not full of gratuitous violence and sex, Jackson is not shy about telling life like it is.  I would not recommend these books for younger teenagers or for my Pentecostal grandmother, were she still living.  (Your grandmother might like them just fine; just be aware that they are not totally G-rated.)

If you enjoy audio books, Jackson’s books are entertaining.  She reads most of them herself, and I enjoy her dramatic expression.

Jackson is also entertaining in her blog, where she might post once a month or three times a week.  She’s busy writing more novels, so her faithful blog followers seem to understand.  Check out her “Faster Than Kudzu” blog at:

gods in Alabama
Arlene Fleet left the small town of Possett, Alabama with the intention of never returning.  In fact, she promised God that she would never again lie, fornicate, or go home, as long as He kept the body hidden.  Arlene went north to Chicago, became Lena, and kept her promises for ten years, despite her mother and aunt calling every week to ask when she was coming home.  Matters come to a head when Burr, Lena’s African-American boyfriend (who respects her “no lying and no fornicating” policy) wants to meet her Southern family.  Lena and Burr hit the interstate and the last decade fades away as they get closer and closer to the small town she left behind.

Between, Georgia
Nonny Frett knows two families, the one who gave her up and the one who claimed her as their own.  In the town of Between, Georgia (population 90), everyone knows everyone.  Nonny was born to fifteen year old Hazel Crabtree, unbeknownst to the rest of the Crabtree clan.  Stacia Frett, a deaf artist who is gradually going blind, saw that unwanted newborn baby and said, “Mine.”  Bernise, Stacia’s twin sister, helped make that “Mine” come true with her influence in the tiny town.  Nonny’s Crabtree grandmother is on the fringes of her life, always looking in jealously and wanting Nonny’s love and attention.  Nonny is all grown up and still pulled in many directions:  between the Fretts and the Crabtrees; between her cheating almost-ex-husband, Jonno, and her best friend, Henry; between big city Athens and tiny town Between.

The Girl who Stopped Swimming
Seeing ghosts is nothing new to Laurel. Uncle Marty used to come visit, usually on nights when a storm was coming.  When Laurel awakes to the vision of a drowned teenage girl, she thinks she is still asleep, seeing the shape of a body in her pool.  First feeling relief that it is not her daughter Shelby, then guilt that someone else’s child has drowned, Laurel realizes that the dead girl is Molly, Shelby’s best friend.  Although the drowning was ruled an accident, Laurel senses there is more to the story, and she attempts to discover what led to the drowning.  This path takes her back to her hometown, the impoverished DeLop.  With help from her feisty sister Thalia, Laurel digs through the present and the past, finding perhaps more than she ever wanted to know.

Backseat Saints
Rose Mae Lolley put in a brief appearance in gods in Alabama, but it turns out she had her own story to tell.  “Ro” Grandee listens to an airport gypsy who tells her she has to kill her abusive husband before he kills her.  Ro gets a gun and sets out to take matters into her own hands.  Not everything goes as planned, (of course,) and Ro begins a journey with her dog, Fat Gretel, that takes her from Amarillo, Texas, to Fruiton, Alabama, to Berkeley, California.  Having lived with her abusive father, who drove her mother off while Rose Mae was young, Ro goes back to confront her childhood fears.  Along the way she discovers more about her mother and herself, finally reinventing herself one more time.

A Grown-up Kind of Pretty
Mosey Slocumb is fifteen years old.  Her mother, Liza, and grandmother, Ginny, are determined that Mosey will not follow their example of having a baby at age fifteen.  This has been drilled into Mosey’s head her whole life, so she has no intention of getting anywhere near a boy, despite her family’s fears.  Liza has had a stroke, and Ginny is determined to put a swimming pool in their back yard to help with Liza’s therapy.  On the day that they pull up a willow tree to make room for the pool, secrets are unearthed along with the roots.  With the discovery of a silver chest containing tiny bones, the Slocumb family is thrown into a panic.  Who buried the box?  If those bones are human, then who is it?

Someone Else’s Love Story (November 2013)
A sneak peek of the cover can be found at:

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