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Monday, May 2, 2011

"Inzanesville" by Jo Ann Beard~ My Top 10 Fav. of 2011

Published by: Hachette Publishing Group/Little, Brown & Co.

Book Summary:

The beguiling fourteen year old narrator of Inzanesville is a late bloomer.  Even in her small midwestern city, where modesty is prized and self-assertion is a faux pas, she flies under the radar--a sidekick, a third wheel, a marching band dropout, a disastrous babysitter, the kind of girl whose eureka moment is the discovery that "fudge" can't be said with an English accent.

Luckily, she has a best friend, a similarly undiscovered girl with whom she shares the everyday adventures--sometimes harrowing, sometimes embarrassing--of a 1970's American girlhood, incidents through which a world is revealed and character is forged.

In time, their friendship is tested--by their families' claims on them, by clique of popular girls who stumble upon them as if they were found objects, and by the first startling, subversive intimations of womanhood.

With dry, irrepressible wit and piercing observations, Jo Ann Beard shows us that in the seemingly quiet streets of America's innumerable Zanesvilles is a world of wonders, and that within the souls of the awkward and the overlooked often burns something radiant.

About the Author:

Jo Ann Beard is the author of The Boys of My Youth and the recipient of fellowships from the New York Foundation of the Arts and the John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation.  She teaches nonfiction writing at Sarah Lawrence College and lives in Rhinebeck, New York.

 What Others Say:

"Sixty years after Salinger's portrait of a sensitive young man, we have a sensitive young woman that is every bit as poignant and powerful as "The Catcher in the Rye."

My Review:
"Inzanesville" is a steady walk through the mire and joys of insanity called adolescence while trying to navigate the delicate, treacherous landmines of a dysfunctional family.  Inzanesville, shortly recognized as a euphemistic "insanesville" quickly draws us into the place and time of what we understand is going to be a crazy ride and a gripping story.

Jo Ann Beard is enchanting and brilliant with an uncanning frankness that's irresistible to readers. She is an earthy writer, one who doesn't use flowery language and whose story packs more punch for it.  She's an author of grass roots. When she writes, she shows us descriptive moments and places we can  remember and see with flashbacks from our own lives.  This is a skill so rare in fiction today, it's a wonder to experience.

She had me laughing through my tears.  This timeless use of humor to cover pain is always piercing and effective.  Her prose is tight, as I mentioned, and she doesn't mince words to get across the  message she has for us.  There's no time wasted in gift wrap, but Ms Beard gives us her story in straight talk that magnifies its impact and hilarity.  It's an unfliching tale, one of angst and emotional suffering...life and circumstances inflicting pain and epiphanies that are the essence of growing up, survived through a warped sense of humor and a mind not given over to the wellsprings of "insanesville."

I asked myself how such a book could be both enjoyable to read and hold such childhood nightmares at the same time. I could only come up with this:  A writer of remarkable courage and gifts could only have written this through personal experience.

Ms Beard's protagonist, aptly and coincidently named Jo "after one of the "Little Women, but not the one who was (her) my favorite--Amy," is wise beyond her years.  As the narrator of her own story, Jo brings us along with her in a journey that leads her into an awakening and a growing up that she must do....her mother having told her it's time she gets beyond being a "late bloomer."  What seems sad is that she finally attains this putting aside of childhood, only to give up what's won in, what I felt was, a sort of acceptance of the inevitable.  But, this is generally the outcome of coming-of-age, isn't it?  In reality.  All childhood illusions are crushed, the barriers of innocence and disbelief are torn down and eyes are opened to the bare, naked truth for better or for worse.

I'm walking a tightrope here, being somewhat vague because this is a book that must be read to be grasped in its impact, which is both moving and lasting.  Along the difficult road she treads, Jo finds lasting friendship and its meaning, her personal calling, and a way to work out her emotional struggles and world-view through art. It's delightful to me that she stumbles upon Surrealism and chooses that as her artistic vehicle! She begins to understand her parents and  family dynamics, and that she has choices to make for her own life. I think it's hilarious that it all manifests itself to her in her surreal artwork.

"Inzanesville" is a book that will touch your heart, make you laugh heartily; one that will stop you dead in your tracks and open your eyes.  It will recall to you your own junior high years, absolutely, possibly including that late 60's-early '70's basement den where lots of partying took place!  And, if you happen to be one of those unfortunate children who had to tread (perhaps still tread) the inelegant, ugly and treacherous waters of a dysfunctional family, it will give you something to think through, again.  I was particularly impacted by Jo's constant worries nearly every day that her depressed and alcoholic father was planning and attempting suicide. I really felt like helping, myself!

This book will undoubtedly rank in my Top Ten Favorite Books of 2011.  Despite its blend of the tragic with the hilarious, ultimately, it is downright fabulous reading!   Jo Ann Beard is a truth-teller, and a court jester of a word spinner tossing out unexpected jolts of humor, catching us off guard; then, as the illusion of laughter begins to crumble, leaving us with a sinking feeling of contemplation and a sense of Jo's and her friends' and family's anxieties. 

I must add as an aside that Little, Brown and Co., does a tremendous job of chosing and publishing outstanding authors and books such as this one.  I am a fan of independent authors and their books, as well.  However, the caliber of author Hachette Publishing has been chosing is, bar none, excellent.   It's a given if you pick up one of Little, Brown's books, you're going to have a superior author with a book that is worthy of the title "literature."

PS:  Little, Brown & Co. offers you this link to read an excerpt:  http://tinyurl.com/63mokr4

Please leave comments to let me know what you think once you've read the excerpt!  Or, if you have anything you want to share.

Your Bookish Dame


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