Friday, August 23, 2019

Never Have I Ever by Joshilyn Jackson

Reviewed by Kristin

Amy Whey has the kind of life that looks a little boring from the outside; she’s a wife and mother who hosts the neighborhood book club and carefully guards her little circle of friends and family. Amy may look like a comfortable suburbanite but hers is a life she has intentionally created, and a life which she desperately desires to maintain. With husband Davis, stepdaughter Madison, and baby Oliver, Amy has found the comfort and love she never had in her early years.

Then comes Roux.

Angelica Roux breezes into Amy’s neighborhood, rents a house for herself and her sixteen-year-old son Luca, and shows up on Amy’s doorstep for book club. With her bold personality, Roux captivates the group. The wine is flowing freely as the atmosphere turns edgy, exhilarating, and just a little bit dangerous. Observing the other women keenly, Roux seems to see right into their souls, and maybe she also sees their deepest secrets. And oh, Amy does have a secret. And Roux knows it. How far will Amy go to keep her marriage, her family, and her friends? Questions of integrity and justice collide as Roux plays a daring game with the very fabric of Amy’s life.

Never Have I Ever is Joshilyn Jackson’s ninth published novel, and is a dramatic departure from her previous works. Jackson has never been one to shy away from a plot twist or three, but this story takes twists and turns which might make you feel as if you’re on a roller coaster holding your breath and then letting it out with a scream as your stomach drops out from under you.

Jackson’s earlier novels tend to have fierce and flawed female characters with dynamic family relationships. Her women are not just weak little ladies reacting to things happening –to- them, but they create their own action. Both Roux and Amy fit into the fierce and flawed character motif as individuals who have grabbed control of their own futures, even though the choices of one or both are shocking and morally questionable.

This bold new novel departs from Jackson’s slightly gentler Southern family sagas, possibly attracting a different readership who might prefer their stories with more thrills and suspense. I have to admit that I will read anything Jackson writes because I enjoy her literary voice. She seems to pull her stories out from deep within her soul and I get the feeling the characters have been bouncing around in her head for a decade or so before they manage to emerge on the page. I have heard Jackson speak at the Decatur Book Festival in Georgia and she said that her books are always about redemption. People live their lives, inevitably take wrong turns, then try to get back on the best path for them.  Although this is a messy process, it is the very essence of life and relationships. Jackson writes vivid, relatable characters, and that is why I enjoy her books so much.

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