Sherri Keller's Reviews > JillyBean

JillyBean by Celia Vogel
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Aug 03, 12

Read on August 03, 2012

This book was won through a LibraryThing giveaway.

Have you ever read a book and wondered what in the fuck did I just read? Welcome to JillyBean. It's a quick read—it just took me the last 3 or so hours to read it, but I'm still confused as to what the book is about.

I was excited to read this book, because it takes place near where I grew up. It's probably weird to say, but I love seeing places I know in books. Kingston! Highway 60! Campbellford! I've been to those places! Just look at the notepad I used to take notes for the book:

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Yes, I am a nerd, in case you were wondering.

I had hoped we would see more of Kingston, since I went to college there, but it ended up being almost entirely in Toronto.

We start off by meeting Jilly, a recent graduate from high school. The story is set in 2001, for some reason, and this is where we encounter our first problem. This might be nitpicky, but Jilly just graduated from grade 12. She will be attending Queen's University in the fall. No. In 2001, OAC (grade 13) still existed in Ontario. It wasn't phased out until 2003. While it was possible to "fast-track" and graduate a year early, no way were you getting into University, especially Queen's, without OAC courses.

Jilly arrives home from house-hunting in Kingston, and a hot guy at Union Station almost steals her cab. After leaving the train station, she gives a $10 bill to a homeless guy. So… not exactly a starving college student, are we? She then arrives home, to her parents' 1/2 acre lot in the middle of Toronto. Are you freaking kidding me? She probably could've given the homeless guy a yacht. Her father is a stock trader, or some such, so they're loaded, obvs.

Also, her father's name is Geordie.

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Just sayin'.

Anyway. Jilly goes off to her job interview at a hospital. Along the way she runs into Andrew Waits and they go for coffee. It's not entirely clear who this person is at first, we later find out that they've been friends since Kindergarten. She continues to her job interview and returns home, where she runs into her father, brother Adam and Olivia, Adam's girlfriend. Apparently, Jilly's mother is at her sister-in-law's house, where they are going to be holding a good old-fashioned séance. Adam snaps, "Dad, I wish you wouldn't call it 'religion'. There is nothing religious about sitting around a table and talking to dead relatives. Pagan superstition, that's what I'd call it."

This is a confusing part. Adam seems very intolerant of other religious views, calling them superstitions. Where's that coming from? Jilly says her father was a Catholic who ceased going to church many years ago, but she and her brother both went to church and Sunday school, and viewed it as an inconvenience "something they were forced to do, rather than an expression of any fervent belief in God". So if mom's a pagan, and dad doesn't go to church—who's stealing these kids and trundling them off to church every Sunday morning? I don't get it.

The four of them drive out to Uncle Phil's house.

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There's some awkward conversation with… family members? I'm not entirely sure who all of these people are. "Our Lord Jesus Christ" was mentioned a couple of times. It makes you wonder, if these people are so horned up for Jesus and think this "black magic" is bullshit, why would they bother attending a séance in the first place? Madame Zelda shows up and then the magic is a-flowin', and it's windy, and the table lifts off the ground. Mr. Mueller gets the vapours, and passes out. They thought he was dead, but he's not. After the hullabaloo has settled down, Madame Zelda informs everyone just before she leaves that "A curse has been unleashed!" Gulp!

Mr. Mueller falls down the stairs in the middle of the night and dies two nights later from blunt force trauma to his head. Some say it's murder, some say it wasn't. In his will, Mr. Mueller requested that he be cremated and his ashes be put into a helium balloon and released over Algonquin Park, presumably because he hates woodland creatures, especially when they're not choking to death on pieces of balloon. I understand where he's coming from, because I've requested that my loved ones use my urn to bludgeon a family of pandas to death. Mr. Mueller's family is not only willing to comply with his wishes, but they go above and beyond, releasing 23 additional coloured balloons, because fuck turtles.

This is another point that made me wonder what the hell is with the religious beliefs in this family. For some reason, Jilly saw the box containing Mr. Mueller's corpse roll into the crematorium incinerator (WHY!?) and the narrative reads, "Somehow it didn't seem right. How could Mrs. Mueller and friends grieve and find comfort and solace in ashes that had settled onto the ground or were floating in the air? How would his soul ever be saved? Was there any hope for him in the afterlife?" She also asked her mother, "Shouldn't Mr. Mueller have had a proper burial?"

Her mother answers, "Honey, his atoms are in the air." How sheltered is Jilly that she's never encountered any beliefs other than her own? AND WHERE ARE THESE BELIEFS COMING FROM? I don't get it.

The family drives four hours to release Mr. Mueller's Fleet of Death to the sky. Madame Zelda shows up at the ceremony at the cliff in the Park somehow, and instead of joining the family, she perches on a rock and looks down at them. As you do. They have trouble with the ashes of course, and some of them end up on people, but People for the Terrible Treatment of Animals president John Mueller is finally sent on his way. May he suffocate every duck.

At this point, the book takes a strange turn. I thought I had suddenly switched to reading Sweet Valley High.

Jilly and her friends go to a graduation party at the University of Toronto, where they have the worst DJs in the world. You know how crazy those kids from the early 2000s were for INXS! They were all, "Backstreet who-now? Give us more Michael Hutchence!"

Who else is at the party but Hot-Almost-Cab-Stealing-Guy! He seems to like Jilly, and they end up hitting it off. They date for a while, then when she confesses her love for him and he doesn't reciprocate, she freaks the fuck out. She leaves the party they were at in tears, and refuses to answer his phone calls at home. He then dates Sarah, the Alpha bitch from high school, and one of Jilly's best friends, Annie. Of course exclusively dating high school girls when you're 26 and a doctor is perfectly normal. Someone alert Chris Hansen!

Jilly meets Matt (the hot pedophile) for a meal and asks where she went wrong, and why don't you love me OH GOD PLEASE LOVE ME. And he's all, maybe you should go talk to someone, like a counsellor or a priest. Priest? Now, it's clear she was overreacting because she was 18 and he was her first boyfriend—lord knows I've done it after a few breakups myself—but is an exorcism really in order? He pays for the meal, and she tells him that they were fated to be together and throws herself into his arms. Get over it, looney tunes.

The ending is just so rushed, and I don't understand what was happening. Even the revised ending that the author sent doesn't make sense. (view spoiler) Um, ok?

There are some problems with the text:
It's a bass guitar, not a base guitar
Campbell-Ford should be Campbellford. Campbell Ford is a Ford dealership in Ottawa.
Google Maps was launched in 2005, so she didn't print out directions from there. However, MapQuest did exist then, so maybe that site could be used instead.

This is a personal pet peeve of mine, but it really bothers me when company names are spelled incorrectly. You might think I'm a corporate whore, but it's just irritating and pulls me out of the narrative unnecessarily. McDonald's, twice in the book, is referred to as Macdonald's. This is the kind of mistake that shouldn't be made in professional publishing.

Some of the text is clunky: "At last, the train wheezed as it made its way slowly into Union Station; the anxious passengers waited eagerly to escape the confined hot space and proceed to their destinations. Hurriedly they retrieved their luggage from the overhead compartments, struggling and pushing to be the first off the train."

Wowee, that's a lot of adverbs. Two points:
1. We're Canadian, which means we're second only to the Brits when it comes to queuing. There's no struggling and pushing on a Via train. Everyone files off in an orderly manner, row by row, and the worst that happens is that someone might give you the stink-eye if you block the aisle and make other passengers wait.
2. This writing could be cleaned up a lot: "At last, the wheezing train pulled into Union Station. The passengers were eager to get off the hot, crowded train. They scrambled to gather their luggage from the overhead compartments."

So the book is about… challenging your beliefs, I guess. And global warming was mentioned a few times, but I have no idea why. The book had a few interesting ideas, but none of them were followed up in any way. What happened to the dirtbag who hit on Jilly on the train? What happened to everyone else who had attended the séance? These are never explored. Unfortunately, I can't recommend this book.
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