May 19, 2014

Jo Joe by Sally Wiener Grotta

Trigger Warning: Rape, Alcoholism

Judith got out of Black Bear a long time ago, promising herself she would never return. But, when she receives an anonymous phone call telling her that her grandmother needs help, it seems that a return to Black Bear is on the horizon.

Judith was doing work in Africa when she received the call, so by the time she received the message, her grandmother had already passed away.
Being the last surviving member of her family, she is forced to return to Black Bear and face the place that didn’t accept her as a child, and face the boy who broke her heart.

Judith was the only black girl in Black Bear where she grew up. She was also the only Jewish girl. Being a minority in a predominately white town caused a lot of problems for her in her childhood. There were racial slurs thrown her way, and she was abused by other school kids.
This was when Joe came into the picture. He became her protector. He warned the other kids to not hurt or touch her, or there would be hell to pay. He was one of the strongest kids at school, Judith felt safe when he was around.
They started spending most of their time together. He came home with her every day after school and spent more time there than he did at his own place. They became really close and came up with a secret name for themselves – Jo Joe. Jo being Judith’s initials. Joe liked that it was similar to his own name.

When Judith arrives back in Black Bear, she encounters Joe right away, which sort of sets the tone for her visit. She runs into a lot of people from her past. Some of them provide a friendly face, while others draw up bad memories.

While trying to sort through her Gramma’s affairs, she stumbles upon the shocking realization that her Gramma had left a significant amount of money plus their family’s hunting lodge to Joe Anderson. Judith cannot fathom why a man that her Gramma did not trust would end up with anything after her passing.

She must then try to find out what changed during the seventeen years that she was away from Black Bear and come to terms with the fact that some people aren’t always what they seem to be.

Even though it is a major part of the novel, the funeral section seemed a little too long. It started dragging on a little bit, and I felt it could have been shortened.

The chapters are all pretty long, but there are breaks in the chapters that help to keep it flowing instead of being a brick wall of text. It helped split up the story nicely.

The writing was brilliantly detailed. This novel relies a lot on the memories of Judith to tell the story, and I felt like I was remembering everything with here. There was just enough detail to explain everything without having it drag on endlessly. I could picture everything in my head while reading it.

The one I had was some of the conversations. For most of the novel, the character voices and conversations had a really nice flow and they added a lot to the story. But, at times, they seemed a little forced. It usually happened when Judith and Rebecca had long, on-going conversations. They would start out going nicely, and then towards the middle, they would get really formal and seemed unnatural. By the end of the dialogue, they were usually back to conversing at a good flow. It through me off a little bit, but it was easy to get by it.

3/5 stars. The story was really interesting, but I feel like it could have been shortened a bit.

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