The beguiling fourteen-year-old narrator of IN ZANESVILLE is a late bloomer. She is used to flying under the radar -- a sidekick, a third wheel, a marching band dropout, a disastrous babysitter, the kind of girl whose Eureka moment is the discovery that "fudge" can't be said with an English accent.Read more...
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The beguiling fourteen-year-old narrator of IN ZANESVILLE is a late bloomer. She is used to flying under the radar -- a sidekick, a third wheel, a marching band dropout, a disastrous babysitter, the kind of girl whose Eureka moment is the discovery that "fudge" can't be said with an English accent.
Luckily, she has a best friend, a similarly undiscovered girl with whom she shares the everyday adventures of a 1970s American girlhood, incidents through which a world is revealed, and character is forged.
In time, their friendship is tested -- by their families' claims on them, by a clique of popular girls who stumble upon them as if they were found objects, and by the first, startling, subversive intimations of womanhood.
With dry wit and piercing observation, Jo Ann Beard shows us that in the seemingly quiet streets of America's innumerable Zanesvilles is a world of wonders, and that within the souls of the awkward and the overlooked often burns something radiant and unforgettable.
Publishers Weekly® Reviews
- Reviewed in: Publishers Weekly, page .
- Review Date: 2011-03-07
- Reviewer: Staff
Thirteen years after Beard's acclaimed essay collection, Boys of My Youth, she brings readers this smashing coming-of-age story. It's the 1970s and the novel's unnamed 14-year-old narrator is beginning high school after a summer spent in close company with her best friend, Felicia, as the two babysit an unruly set of six kids—the novel opens with one of the kids setting their house on fire. With freshman year comes realizations that many adolescent girls have faced, some overwhelming, some slight, but all spot-on: marching band is for dorks, boys are confusing, and even the tightest of friendships can fracture when popularity is at stake. Underlying this teenager's turmoil are problems in the grown-up world, such as her father's alcoholism, her mother's abiding unhappiness, and the death of a friend's mother—all things she tries to ignore, but which occasionally boil to the surface. Beard is a faultless chronicler of the young and hopeful; readers couldn't ask for a better guide for a trip through the wilds of adolescence. (Apr.)
Portrait of a witty—and misfit—teen
The protagonist in Jo Ann Beard’s debut novel, In Zanesville, is one we’ve met before. The unnamed 14-year-old narrator is reminiscent of Lee Fiora in Prep, Eveline in Anthropology of an American Girl and writer Sloane Crosley (I Was Told There’d Be Cake). But she’s seemingly sourced from every girl’s childhood.
There are the disastrous babysitting escapades the teen and her best friend Felicia, who feign British accents, find themselves in; the horrible and oh-so-familiar feeling when a clique of popular girls leave her at a slumber party to meet, ugh, boys; and the three feral kittens the besties hide in a camper, much to their mothers’ chagrin.
So goes In Zanesville: The story of a few months in a 1970s adolescent’s life is so accurately portrayed, the dialogue so precisely rendered, the inner monologue so painfully evocative that the reader plainly remembers being the late-blooming teen herself. The book isn’t nostalgic, because Beard doesn’t write as an adult recalling how she thinks she felt way back when. Instead, the novel reads like a diary of a girl’s 14th year, complete with the dual terror and delight of a possible phone call from a boy and the gut-wrenching discovery of parents’ flawed humanity.
Beard’s narrator is eclectic, thoughtful, witty, imaginative and constantly trying to catch up to her peers, who already seem to know how the world works. The novel is as aching as “The Wonder Years,” but instead of following Kevin and Winnie, the book celebrates the relationship between two misfit best friends. To read In Zanesville is to step back in time—revisiting the bitter and the sweet memories we all share.