Athira (Reading on a Rainy Day)'s Reviews > In Zanesville

In Zanesville by Jo Ann Beard
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May 05, 11

bookshelves: 2011, source-review, fiction, f-general, source-own, personal-library
Read from April 24 to 29, 2011

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.
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Comments (showing 1-4 of 4) (4 new)

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message 1: by ♥Xeni♥ (new)

♥Xeni♥ Great review! (As usual!) You always make me want to read the books you enjoy, Aths!


Athira (Reading on a Rainy Day) Yay! Glad to hear that. :)


message 3: by Bee (new) - rated it 5 stars

Bee Yet only 3 stars?
I worked out she was either a Jo or a Beth because she says she had the same name as one of the girls in Little Women, but not the name she liked the most (Amy), and her sister was called Megan....


Susan Erhardt I figured her name had to be Jo because Beth died, and she said her character went on to be in another book that wasn't as good.


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