Looking for JJ - Anne Cassidy


Summary from Goodreads:
Three children walked away from the cottages on the edge of town toward Berwick Waters. Later that day, only two of them came back. . . . Alice Tully knows exactly what happened that spring day six years ago, though it's still hard for her to believe it. She'll never be able to forget, even though she's trying to lead a normal life--she has a job, friends, and a boyfriend whom she adores. But Alice's past is dangerous, and violent, and sad . . . and it's about to rip her new life apart. Includes a reader's guide.


This book is one of my wife's absolute favourites so I knew I would love it, but little did I know that it would literally blow me away. It felt like a punch in the stomach. Over and over again. I haven't felt like reading a lot of YA lately, and I even fell out of love with it slightly. But reading this book reminded me why I loved young adult fiction so much.

We start the book with 17-year-old Alice Tully who is working as a waitress in a coffee shop. Alice seems to be obsessed by a crime committed six-years ago by 10-year-old Jennifer Jones. Jennifer Jones killed her friend and has been in prison ever since. The media loved that story and Jennifer has been in and out of the papers for half a decade. Now the media is in uproar because she is soon to be released.

It might be a slight spoiler to say that Alice is none other than Jennifer Jones herself. She has been given a new identity and is trying to start her life again. She was released six months earlier so that journalists wouldn't find her easily. It would sound like Alice's life is set to be a real new start, with a job, a boyfriend and University starting soon. But the newspapers keep talking about Jennifer Jones and Alice's guilt is eating away at her. No matter how far she is from her old life, the past always seems to find her again. 

The book starts with Alice Tully in her new life and is followed by a part narrated by Jennifer Jones where we see events that lead up to the tragic death of one of her friends. The structure is notable because it helps the reader get into Alice's head before knowing her past. A way for us not to be blinded by our prejudices. If the parts were swapped, I'm not entirely sure we would feel exactly the same way... The writing is so strong and raw. I was in Alice's head straightaway and felt her pain. 

I loved the portrayal of all the characters, they all had their positives and negatives and felt realistic. I was fascinated by Alice and how she relates to her boyfriend and Rosie (the social worker she lives with) as she doesn't have a great deal of experience when it comes to having what we would call "normal" relationships with people and especially boys.

There are a lot of themes in this book. Themes that make you think. Themes that hit you to the most profound of your beliefs. Can a child be inherently bad or can a terrible upbringing justify a bad action? Nature vs. nurture. Does society need to know about everything? Should a person who commits a crime be condemned for life or can they change? Do they have to relinquish their right to privacy? How much intrusion can we justify for our own security?
This book is so important because it asks the right questions and leaves it to you to provide an answer. It's easy to forget that this book was published ten years ago because the story resonates today more than ever. We have the same issues of culpability, nature vs. nurture and privacy. 

If you're looking for a brilliant example of quality contemporary YA, look no further.

Excitingly, a sequel is being released later this year. If you want to read a blog post by Anne Cassidy about writing a sequel ten years after publishing the first book, it's over here: "Never Say Never: The Story of a Sequel

My Best Books of 2013

Happy New Year!

I hope you've all had a lovely time over the Christmas period and are ready to tackle this new year! I have just started reading The Luminaries and after a few pages of getting into the Victorian writing style, I can't stop reading it! It is extremely fast-paced and gripping.

I have posted this on Twitter but I thought I'd do a formal blog post as well as an update with a book I had forgotten and the last book I've read in 2013 (Graceling). Here is the list of my favourite books of 2013:

Half of a Yellow Sun by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
The Comforters by Muriel Spark
The Garden of Evening Mists by Tan Twan Eng

The Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller
Looking for JJ by Anne Cassidy
Life After Life by Kate Atkinson


A Tale for The Time Being by Ruth Ozeki
A Game of Thrones by George R. R. Martin
The Son by Philipp Meyer

Graceling by Kristin Cashore
Blue is the Warmest Colour by Julie Maroh


Interestingly, 8 out of 11 books were written by women and more than half of them are backlist titles. The titles range from YA and fantasy to historical and literary fiction as well as a graphic novel. Only one is a translated/foreign language book which isn't too surprising as I've mostly read English-language novels this year but it's an area I definitely like to explore further. There is only one YA novel and that's mostly because I haven't read many YA books this year. 

One of the books which I loved but didn't make the list was May We Be Forgiven. I loved it when I read it (5 stars and all) but I realised that I had very little of it left with me 6 months later.

My absolute favourite this year has been The Son by Philipp Meyer. I heard a lot about this book before reading it and I saw the author at the Edinburgh Book Festival talking about it and his writing process. The book literally blew me away by the sheer scope of it. If there is such a thing as perfection in a book, this is it.

For 2014, I'm planning to continue reading in a variety of genres/age groups and I'm also aiming to read more Classics and more foreign language books/translation. I will also continue my Muriel Spark reading challenge!

That's it for me. What was your favourite book last year and do you have any bookish resolutions for 2014?