It is always challenging to judge teen appeal when a book is set in the not-too-distant past. In this case, at least we aren’t dealing with an adult narrator looking back on her teen years, which is often deadly when it comes to appeal. Rather, Jo Ann Beard writes about teens living in the 1970s. Is this likely to appeal to today’s teens? Or only to adults who can remember the era?
What makes the difference this time is the wonderful teen voice in which the novel is written. Also, one of its main themes is friendship, how growing up changes childhood friendships.
Since most of us are at least as interested in YA literature as adult, I will point out YA author Beth Kephart’s reflection on the novel, which ends with this: “What is young adult literature? What is adult literature? I was never convinced, entirely, that the divisions matter.”
And I enjoyed listening to this interview with the author, “Coming-of-Age with In Zanesville” from The Takeaway.
Adult/High School–Step right into the inner life of a 14-year-old girl growing up during the 1970s in the small town of Zanesville, Illinois. Readers only learn that her name is Jo through an oblique reference to the sisters in Little Women. She and her best friend, Felecia, are stuck with the dreadful label late bloomers. Over the course of the novel, however, they begin blooming as they experience the babysitting job from hell, tentative boy interests, and a brush with the popular girls’ clique. Large and small concerns collide for Jo as she ponders her universe. For example, on the same day that she is trying to persuade her mother to let her go to a school football game, Jo is also worried sick that her alcoholic father has shot himself in the basement. Teens who enjoy slice-of-life stories that are submerged in a particular time and place will enjoy Jo’s quirky and perceptive narration. Like Frankie in Carson McCullers’s The Member of the Wedding, Jo is both naïve and wise beyond her years. Readers may note that the narrator has the same name as the author; indeed, Jo Ann Beard has also published an autobiography composed of vignettes from her life, The Boys of My Youth (Little, Brown, 1998). The tone of these two books is similar, encouraging teens who have enjoyed one to read the other.–Diane Colson, New Port Richey Library, FL