In Zanesville

Oh my. The final page read, I tossed the book onto the table exclaiming, “So good!” A well-written examination of the day to day triumphs and tragedies of a fourteen year old girl who begins the book by making money over summer break by babysitting with her best friend, Felicia, to earn cash for the clothes they place on layaway each Saturday. The narrator is never named, although several references are made towards people not knowing her name and calling her Joan (Jo Ann?). J is the sidekick, the plainer, shier, shorter one to Felicia’s tall beauty. Their babysitting gig involves a fire set by one of the kids, then watching his dad punish him by putting his hand in the gas flame of the burner, burning flesh. The girls return to work with a raise to finish their summer wardrobe. Ninth grade begins. They drop out of band to prevent association with weirdness during the middle of the Halloween parade. They are inseparable. The other cast of characters includes older sister Meg, younger brother Raymond, a drunk dad and a mom who keeps it all together. Felicia (Flea)’s family includes younger sister Stephanie (Step on Me) and mom Phyllis.
Suddenly, an invitation to Patti, the cheerleader’s, sleepover party. J is the odd girl out, watching the other girls couple up with the boys who show up later in the evening. She resents Flea for abandoning her and becomes friends with the cheerleaders in retaliation, throwing herself into her chicken/human art project. There is a perfect final scene of near reconciliation with Flea but J realizes she doesn’t have to be a sidekick. She accepts a beer from Hector, “bombs away.”