Without the punch of Mona Simpson’s “Anywhere but Here,” or the flash of Elizabeth Berg’s inherent intimate connections in “Joy School,” In Zanesville remains a novel to contemplate. A debut novel, In Zanesville displays Jo Ann Beard’s talent, and I expect her next novel will fly high.
We never really know the name of our 14 year old narrator, although she alludes to “Jo” in “Little Women.” The narrator (Jo?) and Felicia (Flea), her best friend, fly by the seat of their pants with loony and scary babysitting jobs, the rescue of kittens, the laying away of clothes they can’t afford, and alternate sleepovers at each other’s homes. Jo’s voice is scrappy, intelligent and funny, and Flea is an outspoken sidekick. When Jo is approached by the Cheerleading Crowd, she and Flea attend a Cheerleader Overnighter. The author’s rendition of middle of the road girls faltering into the Popular Crowd presses into us with hysteria, insecurity and truth. When Flea kisses a popular football player at the party, and leaves Jo to sink on her own, Jo’s anger, resentment and confusion overpowers her, and the friendship tilts on its axis.
As Beard’s characters grapple with sanitary belts, red splotches they imagine as they sit in class, and life in the 70’s and growing up, the girls come back together in Zanesville, Illinois, American Anywhere Town.
Moments that insist we hold our bellies in laughter weave in and out of Zanesville, and as the girls mature from Band Nerds, rich grandmothers snubbing with a martini, to acceptance of their weird families, their light shines in the narrator’s beam. A good read, showing off Jo Ann Beard’s vast potential. I have a feeling her next novel will drive us to our knees.
Sparkling, funny, dramatic and real, Zanesville chronicles that strange place in the middle, between girlhood and adolescence, that troubles and tenderizes us all.
In Zanesville: A Novel is available for pre-order on Amazon.com and will be in bookstores on 4/25/2011
Review by Broad “A” – Ava
We received a copy of this title for our book review. All opinions are our own.
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