You don't have a reading pizza?
Sigh. Okay, a reading pizza categorizes the books you enjoy reading. It could just as easily be a "reading bar graph," but I dislike all those angles. It could also just as easily be a "reading filing cabinet," but I don't want to cause anybody any spiritual confusion, so I'm sticking with "reading pizza."
Anywho, my reading pizza is generally divided into four parts. This doesn't mean that I don't occasionally swerve off and take a bite out of, say, a mystery calzone or a paranormal romance bread stick, but, generally, these are the genres that are my "go tos." My cheeses, if you will.
You will note that I've helpfully added examples of my favorite authors to help you better grasp this concept. (I'm nothing if not helpful, right?)
Now, you know when you order a pizza (a real pizza, not a reading pizza) (in case you were unclear) that's half pepperoni and half mushroom and onion and occasionally a pepperoni will migrate over to the mushroom side, creating a delicious crossover taste? That happens on reading pizzas, too, as you will note below:
As you can see, the A Gracious Plenty cookbook falls under both nonfiction AND Southern Literature, as you can find recipes within of a decidedly Southern flavor, as well as quotes about food by Mark Twain and William Faulkner.
Terry Kay is a writer known both for his grasp of Southern life as well as his embrace of those things which you can't see, but sense are there. (Uh. Magic, y'all.)
Joshilyn Jackson is not.
I know, I know. I just really wanted to use the reading pizza thing, mkay? Ms. Jackson falls squarely in the "Southern literature" quadrant of my reading pizza and I love her for it.
Known for her ability to draw in readers by creating characters they know (or for her ability to translate an alien culture to folks living outside of the region), she has once again created a perfect little world in A Grown-Up Kind of Pretty.
The world is not perfect as in it's all sunshine and roses and happiness, though. It's perfect in that the characters react to each other in real-feeling ways, the situations in which they find themselves are dramatic without feeling too "made up," and the environment in which they live is solidly built.
The story is told in first person by three different characters. Ginny Slocumb (known as Big) is the matriarch, a forty-five-year-old grandmother who had her own child at age fifteen. That child is Liza. Liza was a wild one, a free spirit who ventured into drug abuse after having her own little girl at age fifteen. A few months prior to the opening sequence of the book, Liza suffered a debilitating stroke.
Liza's child is Mosey, who has spent her whole life being conditioned to NOT fall victim to the Slocumb curse that seems to come along with turning fifteen. Mosey is a good student and a sweet child, it would seem, but her fate seems less certain when the willow tree in Big's front yard is removed, revealing a long-buried secret that threatens the security of their little family. What follows is a journey to do many things: hold the family together, discover the secret of the bones found in the front yard, find love (in Big's case), make friends, keep friends...basically what people do every day. (With the exception of the bones.)
Jackson does many things well in this book, but the best things, in my opinion were:
- Fleshing out the secondary characters. From the lecherous high school football coach to the icy Baptist social queen, from the poor girl living on the wrong side of town to the cuckholded (and adulterous) wife, you've met these people. And either loved or hated them. That Jackson can engender that love and hatred in her readers means she is a champion of characterization, which is so often missing from books today. (MOSTLY--see below)
- Making a far-fetched situation seem plausible. Many of Jackson's works hinge on a mystery that must be solved or an identity that must be ascertained or a life that must be risen above. A Grown-Up Kind of Pretty is no different. But whereas sometimes authors seem to have to invent scenes or devices, because Jackson portrays her characters so strongly, she rarely has to do this. (MOSTLY--see below.)
- Making the environment a character in and of itself. I can't speak for other regions, but in the South, we are intimate with our environment. We have favorite trees, favorite hills, favorite winds. It might be because we are privileged to be able to be OUT in our environs most of the time, but we think of the places and objects around us as important. Mourning a tree (or using it as a hiding place or a way to mark sacred events) is normal for us.
- Picking a book cover. Goodness me, the cover of this book is gorgeous. Everything from the (blurry but obvious) open arms of the subject to the slight browning of the apple tucked into her belt is perfect.
I like this book. It probably will go on my book friends shelf. BUT there are a few caveats:
- Mosey uses the word "retarded" (or variations thereof) a lot. Enough that I started wincing about it. I understand that teenagers do fling this word around as a light-hearted insult (bleagh), but it infuriates me when they do it. So it was hard reading it over and over again. I THINK I know why Jackson did it (I've created an excuse in my head), but I wanted to give a heads up to those of you who are bothered by it.
- A rather pivotal character in the climax of the novel does not behave in a way that previous clues about her make you think she would. In fact, her behavior was rather jarring to me, not because it was awful, but because I expected it to be. This was the lone point of characterization weakness I found, but it made me feel like the climax was a bit "made" and not "reached naturally."
- A rather pivotal object used during the climax of the novel was found in a way that seemed odd to me. Again, it seemed an issue of having to create a tool rather than the tool showing up naturally. Especially given the other actions of the object's owner, I couldn't really understand why the owner would have the object in the first place. (Consider it a point in Jackson's favor that I can't be more clear about this without giving giant plot parts away.)
- The climax was physically powerful, but it was the weakest part of the story from a story-telling perspective, which was a bit of a let down. Part of it, I think, was that the narrative had already given away so much that the situation itself HAD to be extreme. Does that make sense? It was almost as if, by figuring out the story beforehand, the climax was something the reader had to get through before the resolution could take place. The resolution was GREAT, but the climax? Not so much.
Those four things, for me, were not enough to detract seriously from my love of the story. I don't think (from a literature teacher standpoint) that the climax should be something a reader feels underwhelmed by, but my love for the characters and their places far overreaches that quibble.
If you're looking for an engrossing read with lovable (if flawed) characters who ooze Southerness, run out and read this right now: .