September 9, 2013

Review: Living with Jackie Chan

Finally, a novel that brings an issue like teen pregnancy into the male conversation. So many of these stories are told from the female perspective, and it is refreshing to see the story told from the other side.

I was not prepared to enjoy this novel as much as I did.

Title: ‘Living with Jackie Chan’
Author: Jo Knowles
Pages: 384
Publisher: Candlewick Press
Available: 10 Sept. 2013
Source: requested from Netgalley

Summary (from Goodreads):

After fathering a baby, a teenager moves in with his karate-loving uncle and tries to come to terms with his guilt — and find a way to forgive.

This isn’t how Josh expected to spend senior year. He thought he’d be hanging out with his best friends, Dave and Caleb, driving around, partying, just like always. But here he is, miles from home — new school, new life, living with his Jackie-Chan-obsessed uncle, Larry, and trying to forget. But Josh can’t forget. So many things bring back memories of last year and the night that changed everything. Every day the pain, the shame, and the just not knowing are never far from his thoughts. Why is he such a loser? How could he have done what he did? He finds some moments of peace when he practices karate with Stella, the girl upstairs and his one real friend. As they move together through the katas, Josh feels connected in a way he has never felt before. He wonders if they could be more than friends, but Stella’s jealous boyfriend will make sure that doesn’t happen. And maybe it doesn’t matter. If Stella knew the truth, would she still think he was a True Karate Man? Readers first met Josh in Jumping Off Swings which told the story of four high school students and how one pregnancy changed all of their lives. In this companion book, they follow Josh as he tries to come to terms with what happened, and find a way to forgive.

My Thoughts:

Okay, this book. This book had me feeling all kinds of “feels.” Seriously. As soon as I get my hands on a hard copy, I am adding it to my classroom library.

What a story; what storytelling.

I will say that I was not sold right away on this novel—and by that I mean within the first chapter. But I really enjoyed Josh as a character and hung in there with him. But really, it was wanting to see how the author would broach this subject. Truth time—brilliantly.

After all, pregnancy doesn’t just happen to the mother. Adoption choices don’t just happen to the mother. And now add in the element of a relatively young age. How does one move beyond the past to build a promising future?

Josh struggles the entire novel. As readers, we are given snapshots into what has his soul. What has torn such a part of him away and led him to leave his own school his senior year?

This slow build is what kept me hooked; and his relationship with his uncle; and his budding friendship with Stella, which I will get to in a minute.

As far as storytelling goes, the novel is solid. The author reveals on a “need to know” basis, which at times I found frustrating, but when I really paid attention to the words on the page, I realized that Knowles was giving me what I needed at that point within the story. Front-loading the novel with all of the details would have been a mistake, because ultimately the reader has certain questions for Josh, all of which I felt were addressed. At least for me.

Character development was also well-done.

While I loved Josh as a character, Larry was my favorite. He made me want to be a “True Karate Man.” I wanted to be in his inner circle, to feed off of his gentle soul, and to absorb all the wisdom that he was trying to bring to Josh. This novel would not have been the same without Larry—and I felt he could have been in the novel more. But…this isn’t his story; but man do I want to read a novel about Larry. **hint, hint

And then there is Stella. I did not like her as a character. I’m sorry, I know I was supposed to, but I just wanted to smack her. A few times. I understand that she is in a relationship with her boyfriend, but he was a jerk. Plain and simple. I found myself complaining to my husband and his response being, “It’s only a book.” Umm…no, it’s not. Stella needed to find her way much earlier within the storytelling. On the other hand, it would not have been a realistic situation, and I would’ve been fine with that, but I think it would have taken away from the novel as a whole. **sad face

This is not just a novel about dealing with fathering a child. This novel deals with a plethora of issues: friendship, loyalty, courage, trust, abuse, parental relationships, miscommunication—the list goes on.

As a whole package, this novel has it. This is not a read for just teen boys or just teen girls, although I can see a lot of girls wanting to read it just for the perspective.

It is a novel worth your reading time, worth your shelf space, worth discussing with the teen in your life.

‘Living with Jackie Chan’ is on shelves tomorrow. Bring it home. Or to your classroom/library.

What realistic fiction novel have you read lately that really struck a chord in your heart?

Comment below and let’s talk about books.

Happy Reading!

-      The Hodgenator

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