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IN ZANESVILLE by Jo Ann Beard

IN ZANESVILLE

By Jo Ann Beard

Pub Date: April 25th, 2011
ISBN: 978-0-316-08447-5
Publisher: Little, Brown

Angst, and a grudging reconciliation to childhood being left behind, are the heart of this debut novel.

The narrator and her best friend, Felicia, began the summer before entering high school babysitting the six children of a biker gang couple, an occupation that ends morbidly when the husband holds the hand of a disobedient child over an open gas flame. After that display of brutality, the pair decide to quit, even though they need money to get their trendy freshman wardrobe out of lay-away. The bored and restless girls, residing in the prototypical 1970s mid-western small town, live in something less than a Happy Days environment. Both girls' mothers work too hard and yell too much. The narrator's father supposedly sells house siding, but he spends most days drinking vodka and watching birds and squirrels from the kitchen window, at least until he becomes drunk enough to yell "I'll say this about that!" in response to attempts at conversation. The third person narrator remains nameless, although readers learn she bears one of the names from Little Women. The author has beautifully captured how a shy but observant girl might interpret the awkwardness and the struggle for acceptance in the high school's perplexing social milieu. Beard also introduces a fine cast of minor characters. Much of the narrative is played off Felicia, anxious and uncertain herself, as the two girls attempt to participate in marching band, suffer and then seek detention, discover boys and confront mortality when the mother of an acquaintance dies. But it is Felicia, "eyes gone flat" when she walks off with a boy during a party, who provokes the narrator's revelation that even the sweetest childhood bonds can become flawed and fragile mature friendships.

This could be an instruction book for a perceptive teenager. For an adult, it resonates as a bittersweet remembrance of a time when life was more difficult than it should have been.