Saturday, January 12, 2013

looking for jj by Anne Cassidy

Looking for jj explores the interesting topic of a juvenile offender attempting to reintegrate into society.
Told in the voice of the offender, the story is divided into four parts, each focusing on a segment in her life.

In the first part of the book we learn about the present. Alice Tully reads everything she can about Jennifer Jones, the girl who has served six years for the murder of another girl. The newspapers are all about Jennifer being released after serving her sentence. Alice is obsessed because Alice is Jennifer. Jennifer was in fact released six months earlier and set up with a new identity and a job. Now living under the name of Alice Tully, and working at a coffee shop, she lives with a social worker named Rosie Sutherland in Croydon. Only three people know that Jennifer Jones is now Alice Tully and that she was paroled early; Rosie, Patricia Coffey who is director of Monksgrove where Alice was incarcerated, and Jill Newton, her probation officer.

But it's not long before the hunt is on for Jennifer Jones. One day Alice notices that a stranger has been frequenting the coffee shop. When he leaves the shop forgetting some papers on the table, Alice discovers that he has written down the names of the three girls involved long ago in the event that ended in the murder of one of them. For Alice this is more than coincidental. Panicked, Alice leaves her job, and races home. However, Rosie encourages her to go back to work, telling Alice it is impossible that anyone could know where she is. But Alice knows that the private detective is there because of the birthday card she sent her mom a few weeks ago. Rose, Patricia, and Jill don't know about the card but do eventually find out and they realize that the private detective is someone hired by "Alice's" mother to locate her.

In an attempt to throw off the detective they create a diversion but ultimately this proves unsuccessful because Alice is found out by someone her mentor and her probation officer never suspected; someone who is working undercover. This person essentially forces Alice to consent to an in-depth interview.

In this part of the book, through a series of flashbacks, we also learn about Jennifer's life up until she commits murder at the age of ten. Her mom is a beautiful woman who works as a model. But as she ages, Carol Jones finds it increasingly difficult to gain employment. As a result, Carol gradually abandons Jennifer, first leaving her alone in their flat when she is only six years old. Eventually over the years Jennifer is either left alone, left to live with her grandmother, or comes to live at home for short periods of time with her mother. Jennifer is desperate to with her mother but her mother is too busy trying to eke out a life as a model. As Jennifer's anger at being abandoned grows, she begins to act out becoming violent.

The second part of the book focuses on the year when Jennifer and her mother move to Berwick Waters, when she is ten years old. Jennifer forms a friendship with two girls in the complex where she lives; Michelle Livingstone and the younger, vulnerable Lucy Bussell. The three girls have a complex relationship in which Lucy is often bullied by the two older girls, while Michelle and Jennifer often fight. One day when the three girls go on a walk to the reservoir in Berwick Waters, to hunt out Lucy's brother's "den" the strained relationship between them comes to a head. An unexpected discovery enrages Jennifer and she almost causes one friend to drown. But a second provocation isn't so innocent and of the three girls that went to the reservoir that day, only two return. It is a day that forever changes their lives.

The third part of the book returns to the present and picks up the story of Alice. as she takes her boyfriend, Frankie, up on his offer to spend some time at his house in Brighton. Once there Alice tries to settle in, but the specter of doing the interview places an overwhelming shadow over her. When the story unexpectedly leaked to the press, Alice must confront Frankie and the realization that her current life is probably over. She will have to start anew with yet another identity. This new identity is briefly covered in part four of the book. We also learn, through flashbacks, the rest of what happened that fateful day in Berwick Waters.

Looking for jj is a well written novel that explores the thorny issue of child murder. Cassidy builds a believable backstory of abandonment and emotional neglect that leads a ten year old girl to commit murder. Jennifer's progression to an increasingly violent and disturbed child is accurately portrayed, from her cruelty towards her grandmother's pet to an assault on a classmate, to her impulsive actions with her friends. Yet this is juxtaposed with Jennifer's innate kindness towards the smaller, timid Lucy, and her innocence at what her mother is doing to earn money. The author creates a situation where it is impossible not to empathize with Jennifer who admires her mother and who so desperately wants to be with her. Jennifer is a solid, realistic character with a complex personality. She is still struggling to come to terms with what happened six years ago and doesn't believe she deserves to have any sort of happiness.

Equally well developed is the character of Jennifer's mother, Carol Jones, a young mother who slips from catalogue modelling into pornography and prostitution. Carol not only neglects Jennifer but eventually decides to use her daughter in an act of ultimate betrayal. Even when Jennifer is as Monksgrove, she manipulates her for her own gain. This pattern of betrayal continues into the present, making Jennifer realize she cannot let her mother back into her life, despite her need for a mother's love.

In contrast to Carol Jones, is the loveable, stable Rosie, who cares for Jennifer and offers her protection and a chance to start over. Rosie offers Jennifer the first real home she has ever had.

The novel asks readers to consider some fairly heavy questions such as whether or not children who commit serious crimes such as murder can be rehabilitated, whether the public has a right to know when they are released and where they live and whether they have the right to privacy?

Looking for jj was first published in 2004 and won both the Carnegie Medal in 2005 and the Whitbread Children's Book Award in 2004. Cassidy specializes in writing crime novels and thrillers for teens. This is a good novel, with an interesting and unique topic.

Book Details:
Looking for jj by Anne Cassidy
Toronto: Scholastic Press    304 pp.

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