Will JL jump on the back of her boyfriend’s motorcycle and light out for California to see her dad—or stay on Long Island with her mother?
Jean Louise, or “JL”—named for author Jack (Jean-Louis) Kerouac—has grown up with both her mother and grandmother fixated on the fact that in 1961, her then-teenage grandmother was kissed by Kerouac in a restaurant in their hometown of Northport, Long Island. JL is baffled by their fascination (and likely so will most teen readers today be). However, as a high school sophomore, JL has bigger worries. Her father has moved to California for work, and it is unclear when he will return. Her mother is sinking into a dissociative state, writing letters to the dead author. Her former best friend, Aubrey, has found new friends. JL finds solace in her relationship with her 19-year-old boyfriend, Max (who is a stereotype of the bad boy with a heart of gold), and in raising tropical butterflies from a kit her grandmother bought for her. The major strengths of the book are deft deployment of the emerging butterfly theme, first-person narration by a strong and insightful character, and honest descriptions of JL’s sexual relationship with Max. Unfortunately, JL’s mother’s mental illness is portrayed shallowly, the Kerouac element is not very compelling, and the setting is indistinguishable from Anytown, USA. All characters seem to be white.
A serviceable exploration of teen relationships. (Fiction. 13-18)