REINVENTING JENNA ROSE by Joni Marie Iraci

REINVENTING JENNA ROSE

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KIRKUS REVIEW

In Iraci’s debut novel, a Californian teenager tries to escape her traumatic childhood by tracking down her grandmother in New York City.

Jenna Rose’s mother, Meghan, leaves her 17-year-old daughter home alone while she’s away on business. This certainly isn’t an uncommon occurrence, so the teenager is unconcerned—until she learns that her estranged father, Alan, whom Meghan divorced four months earlier, will be stopping by during Meghan’s absence. Jenna doesn’t want to see him, so she concocts a plan that will allow her to avoid him: She’ll visit her maternal grandmother, Katherine O’Connor, whose existence Jenna only recently discovered; Meghan had previously told her that all of her other relatives were dead. Using her mom’s shiny new platinum credit card, Jenna books a flight to New York and shows up at Katherine’s door. The older woman, whom Jenna eventually dubs “Grand,” willingly takes her in. The teen slowly adjusts to her new life in the city, which entails attending private school with snarky classmates, including the rather contemptible Nicole Elliott. However, Jenna also makes her first real friend: Gabrielle Yvonne “Gypsy” Puteri, an uninhibited but good-natured professional model. Grand knows that there’s something harrowing in Jenna’s past, and it’s unquestionably related to Alan—a photographer whom cops later arrest on serious and disturbing charges. Jenna opens up to Grand and therapist Christine Gautier about her childhood trauma, and struggles with her impending testimony at a trial in open court.

Iraci’s sharply written tale incisively tackles the subject of child abuse. Such abuse has clearly affected Jenna deeply, as she’s now prone to what appear to be severe panic attacks. The teenager aptly states in her narration that Alan “raped” her childhood and stole from her “a normal child’s life.” As might be expected, the book’s tone is often grim, as the protagonist endures not only her considerable trauma, but also a largely neglectful mother and terrible classmates. But Jenna’s allies help to alleviate the bleakness of the narrative. Grand, for example, keeps Meghan and Alan away from Jenna long before she knows the full details of her granddaughter’s secret. The teenager also receives a good deal of emotional support from Gypsy and Jenna’s loyal German shepherd, Gracie. Jenna herself offers some occasional moments of humor, as when a nurse asks her if she wants to sign an organ donor card, and she wearily responds, “Sure, take whatever you want.” Iraci’s portrayal of the wealthy feels somewhat inconsistent; Jenna’s affluent schoolmates are depicted as spoiled, but it’s also noted that sympathetic Grand’s estranged siblings disapproved of her and her late husband’s riches. Jenna, however, is a steady character who retains certain traits even as her character evolves, such as her general wariness of most people. The story takes readers through Alan’s trial and Jenna’s unnerving time on the stand; a memorable final act shows an older Jenna who, despite a loss or two, finds resolution.

An astute, respectful treatment of a serious issue, featuring a strong protagonist.

Pub Date: May 6th, 2019
ISBN: 978-0-9991370-4-8
Page count: 269pp
Publisher: Fat Dog Books
Program: Kirkus Indie
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