review · U.S.

A GROWN-UP KIND OF PRETTY by Joshilyn Jackson

A Grown-Up Kind of Pretty by Joshilyn Jackson is a story of mothers and daughters.  Ginny, also known as Big, had her daughter Liza when she was a teenager.  Liza, in turn, became a teenage mother to Mosey.  This story takes place in Mosey’s fifteenth year, the year her mother suffers a stroke, and the year in which a handyman uncovers Liza’s box with baby bones in their backyard.  It’s no mystery to Big and Mosey that Liza’s biological daughter died, but the mystery is who Mosey is.
Like just about every book I’ve read recently, this book alternates narration from character to character:  the supremely motherly Ginny, the recovering-addict-and-recovering-stroke-victim Liza, and the angst-ridden Mosey, who embarks on a search for her real parents.  Jackson captures the voices incredibly well, from the Big, the struggling Liza, and the confused Mosey. What I very much appreciated about the characters is that they weren’t quirky for the sake of being quirky, which I sometimes feel when I read contemporary Southern novels.
The actual plot or actual mystery is not the main draw of this book:  this book is not about suspense about Mosey’s actual parents or about Liza and her deceased daughter.  This book is about the characters, how they care for each other, and how they help each other through the incredibly rough patches they are going through.  Jackson is very good at capturing the voices of her three main characters, especially Big and Mosey.  The main villain is not so fleshed-out, but that’s not a hindrance to the story.  Another thing I loved about this story is that the side characters like Mosey’s friends were well-rounded characters, not just wisecracking sidekicks. That’s not to say that this story or its characters are humorless:  there’s plenty of humor throughout the book that keeps it from being relentlessly bleak.
I’d recommend this book most to people who like smart, teen-angst-tinged stories, be they books, movies or TV shows.
A GROWN-UP KIND OF PRETTY by Joshilyn Jackson
Grand Central Publishing
Publication date: January 25, 2012
Source:  Publisher via NetGalley
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review · U.S.

SALVAGE THE BONES by Jesmyn Ward

Salvage the Bones is the story of the Batiste family, who lead difficult lives in a small town near the Mississippi coast.  This novel is the story of the days leading up to Hurricane Katrina and its immediate aftermath as told by Esch, the only girl in a family of boys, whose mother died after giving birth to her younges tson.
Esch’s voice is amazing: she’s a smart, tough teenager. She’s a bit in love with Manny, the father of her unborn child.  She fiercely loves her siblings and even he rdepressed, alcoholic father.  She especially loves her brother Skeetah, who in turn loves his pit bull China, who gives birth in the opening chapter of the book.  Skeetah’s relationship with China is Esch’s model for parenta llove.  Her dysfunctional model for romantic love comes from her assigned summer reading of Edith Hamilton’s Mythology:  the love story of Medea and Jason, which ends in betrayal.
This is not a sentimental story.  The Batistes are in tough circumstances:  Dad is an alcoholic who can’t keep a job and is very depressed since his wife died. The family has little money, which hurts Randall, who aspires to play college basketball.  Esch starts having sex at age 12, and she’s a teenager who’s pregnant.  Skeetah raises China, the pit bull, and fiercely tends to he rpuppies because they are his future source of income.  The details of the story make it seem like it will be a tough go,but the strong voice of Esch makes it work. She’s strong, a bit moony over Manny, and a dedicated mothe ralready.  The other thing that makes the story work is that I don’t feel manipulated by the story or by the characters.  It’s not a tragic story with a feel-good hook of a sad and wise-beyond-his-years child.  I’m thinking of Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close by Jonathan Safran Foer. These kids feel smart but real.
Finally, what makes this work is the tone of the tragic story.  We all know that Hurricane Katrina is coming, and we all know what horrendous damage it left in its wake.  Every episode in this story, from the pitbull fighting to the kids fighting to the hurricane march onward, inevitably to the storm.
I was surprised by how much I liked this book.  I thought the dog fighting and grim story would be too much, but they weren’t. The writing is very good—and very deserving of the National Book Award—and the characters felt very real. I hope Jesmyn Ward returns to University of Michigan, where she received her MFA, for a reading soon.
SALVAGE THE BONES by Jesmyn Ward
Bloomsbury USA
Publication date: August 31, 2011
Source: library