In Zanesville by Jo Ann Beard

Thursday, May 5, 2011


In Zanesville
"I'm going to a football game with Dunk and Maroni," I say patiently. "And maybe Yawn and maybe Luekenfelter, if her mom says."
"Why wouldn't her mom say? Is there something I don't know about these football games?"
"No. God. It's a game, people throw a ball around; it's exciting. If I can't go, just tell me, and I'll get someone else to use my ticket."
"You have a ticket?"
"You can't go to a game without a ticket! God!"
There's a long wait as she reads the newspaper and smokes.
"Be home by nine," she says.
"The game begins at eight! God!"
"Be home by ten," she amends it. "And if I hear the word God again, you won't know what hit you."

In Zanesville is a coming-of-age story about an unnamed fourteen-year old protagonist who revels in being a sidekick. She stays with an over-stressed mother, a drunk father, an annoying elder sister and a helpful younger brother. Our protagonist and Felicia (or Flea, as she is sometimes known) are best friends who know each other really well, and they frequently sleepover at each others place. Felicia isn't too popular either, though relatively, she is. When the pair are together, people look at Felicia and ask stuff. For instance, when events get very out-of-control at babysitting one day, the mother looks at Felicia and demands an explanation. Our heroine is clearly very used to being ignored, and it suits her fine. Until, one party at a cheerleader's house leads to her being isolated even by Flea, causing her to realize that she took her time with her best friend for granted.

I really liked this book. A lot! The protagonist of In Zanesville doesn't have a name. In this NPR post, Jo Ann Beard mentions that she related so much to the narrator that it didn't occur to her that she had to name her. Of course, that makes it hard for me to review the book, but I feel it worked really well for the book. There was a stronger sense of "I" in this book as I read it - as the author says, it's hard not to relate to the narrator. After closing the book, it made me relive my teen years, remembering all the fun and the heartbreaks. 

In Zanesville focuses on the early teenage years, but it's really not a young adult book. Think Finny, The Secret Life of Bees and Saving CeeCee Honeycutt. This book is set in junior high school - the time of some of the most wonderful discoveries in life, and also possibly the most angst-ridden ones. The narrator's life strongly reminded me of my own junior high school years - the fascination with dating, boys, girl-friends we like to consider our best friends forever, the cliques, the jocks, parties that are no longer frilly but more fun, sexy, and naughty. And then the downsides - the jealousy, the obsession with the looks department, the clash with parents, the fights with the best friends, the association with the cliques. All in all - a wonderful look at all the drama that's common in those years.

This book also turned out to be very hilarious! As in laugh-out-loud funny. There is an innocence in those years that makes the whole experience laughable on retrospection. Both Felicia and our narrator manage to lure a couple of guys they meet at detention, without the guys ever having been aware of the girls' existence previously  - I realize now how dating was really easier then than now, but in those years, it was harder than a math exam. When this 14-year old reminisces over the time when she was "young", I realized that no matter what our age, we always consider ourselves as old. And yet, interlaced through the incredible humor, there is a quiet yearning that you could feel. Both Felicia and the narrator yearned for more. They looked to each other for support. So when Felicia does something perfectly normal but which ends up making the narrator lonely, there's a frisson that appears between the two. Even at this point, the book doesn't slacken in humor, and yet I never stopped feeling sad for what she was going through. My only complaint or rather jarring note was that this is the point where the eccentric art teacher comes in and where our heroine throws herself entirely into art. It reminded me of Speak, but that's an unfair comparison, because we do tend to throw ourselves into some form of art when we are emotional.

In short, this is a wonderful coming-of-age novel of a young girl and her friend, as their friendship is tested in a way neither of them foresaw. It is also about the fears that rattle any teen especially with respect to the fragility of her own family - there is that gun in our narrator's home which she is worried could end up in her father's hands in one moment of extreme emotion. In Zanesville also does amazing justice to the minor characters - I'm glad they weren't mere puppets but were crucial to the storyline. I loved that the author portrayed the mother and the sister strongly and put across the family dynamics really well. I was checking through my goodreads shelf, and one of my friends had shelved the book as "the good old days", which best describes the book. Through a very engaging writing style, the author managed to transport me to those good old days that I hated then but would love to relive all over again.

I received this book for free for review from HachetteIn Zanesville was released on April 25th. Check it out on the publisher's pageGoodreadsAmazon and Barnes and Noble.

18 comments:

Nina Happyendings said...

It does sounds emotional, but also a lot of fun. I like the sound of it. It's different, which I like at times. Great review.

bermudaonion (Kathy) said...

I think writing an unnamed protagonist is very difficult to do, but when it's done right, it can be amazing. You've convinced me that I need to get hold of this book!

Misha said...

Your reviews manages to transport me back to my school days! Things that were so important to me in school seem so trivial now.
It's interesting how the protagonist of In Zanesville doesn't have a name. I adore a well-written coming-of-age tale , so I will be definitely adding this to my TBR.

Athira / Aths said...

It isn't too emotional. Most of the emotion comes from relating to the character and remembering those school years. I enjoyed this and I think you may too.

Athira / Aths said...

Kathy, I'm pretty sure that you'll love this book. Based on the kind of books that I know you enjoy, this one falls right into your comfort zone. I hope you really pick this one.

Athira / Aths said...

I agree with you how things that seemed important in school no longer feel so relevant now. I used to laugh at some of my experiences. And yet, this book reminded me not to dismiss those experiences and made me look at my school years differently. Those were some of my best years!

Nadia said...

Aths, this sounds like a really good read. I've seen this book around, but hadn't bothered to check and see what it was about. I'm glad you posted about it, because it sounds like something I would enjoy reading and also something I could send to my younger cousin. Thanks for the heads up on this one. By the by, it is so true how we always view ourselves as older, no matter how young we may be. Its crazy how much everything mattered so much when we were younger and how those same things would barely register on our radar now.

Meg @ write meg! said...

For me, a book is often made or broken by its minor characters -- as you mentioned, "puppets" (or shadows, really) definitely don't work for me and often ruin a perfectly good story by taking up space. Glad to hear you enjoyed this one -- I hadn't heard of it before, but it sounds like one I would like!

Athira / Aths said...

I'm glad you're interested in reading this. This was such a delightful look at those "immature" years! I can't wait to hear what you think.

Athira / Aths said...

That goes for me too. I like to relate to the minor characters as much as the major ones. No matter how tiny their appearance on the pages. I thought some of the minor characters in this one were wonderful.

hcmurdoch said...

This sounds like a good book and right up my alley. I would have assumed it was YA if you hadn't mentioned that it isn't.

Athira / Aths said...

Yeah, I figured that confusion might be there. After all, it is a book with a teen protagonist set in a junior school. But I hope you get to read it!

Darlene said...

I haven't heard of this one before but it sure sounds like something I would like. I enjoy YA books - so many of them have been great reads for me.
ps: I picked up Shantaram yesterday! I'm ready to go!

softdrink said...

 You know, I didn't even realize until I went to write a post about the book that the narrator was never named. Sometimes that bothers me, but in this case I liked the book so much it just wasn't an issue.

Athira / Aths said...

 I think you will enjoy this one, Darlene! You should certainly give it a try.

Athira / Aths said...

 I think I was looking for the name of the character, because a few pages in, I already began reviewing this book in my head and then I was wondering what I would address her. But I loved the book, despite the missing name.

Phil Badger Sr said...

I re-read "The Fourth State of  Matter" Thanksgiving Morning that recounted the dark days of Van Allen Hall on the Campus of the University of Iowa.  Its been twenty years this past November 1st that the tragedy unfolded.  It took a lot of courage to relive that day but it was necessary for me to do it as I lost a lot of friends that day.  The following Sunday I lit a candle in church to help remember all the victims that were taken from us.

Phil Badger Sr

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