Review: A Grown-Up Kind of Pretty by Joshilyn Jackson

Tuesday, March 6, 2012
Genre: General Fiction & Literature
Series: N/A
Pages: 322 (Nook ARC edition)
Published: January 2012
Source: publishers via NetGalley
Rating: 3.5/5

A GROWN-UP KIND OF PRETTY is a powerful saga of three generations of women, plagued by hardships and torn by a devastating secret, yet inextricably joined by the bonds of family. Fifteen-year-old Mosey Slocumb-spirited, sassy, and on the cusp of womanhood-is shaken when a small grave is unearthed in the backyard, and determined to figure out why it's there. Liza, her stroke-ravaged mother, is haunted by choices she made as a teenager. But it is Ginny, Mosey's strong and big-hearted grandmother, whose maternal love braids together the strands of the women's shared past-and who will stop at nothing to defend their future.

I've read two other novels by this author, long before I started blogging, and I was less than impressed by what she had to offer in Between, Georgia and Gods in Alabama. Both of these Southern-set novels were just sort of...there. I didn't love them, didn't hate them; I didn't have enough emotion invested to feel either way. Nothing called to me from their pages; the characters weren't favorites or interesting; they simply did what they had to for the story - I felt no connection to the plots, the settings, the people. Happily for me, A Grown-Up Kind of Pretty diverges from the path set down by its predecessors.  The unfolding stories and pasts of these three similar but disparate women (Mosey, Liza, Ginny) is engaging from early on and the mystery at the heart of Mosey's life is both compelling and immensely readable. 

Ginny is 45 and the matriarch of her tight-knit, all-female family, and in her short-ish years has experienced a cyclical pattern for three periods of extreme difficulties: her 15th year, her 30th and 45th. Jackson paints Ginny as a strong, Southern woman, one who can readily buy that she and her family are cursed by the number 15, but one that steadfastly hates religion, mostly Baptists. She's just "Big" to both of her girls, and has a big personality to match her sobriquet. Ginny is a complex character: I'd say she's even more dimensional than her wild-child daughter Liza, and reading about this determined Grandma reminded me a bit of my own hard-as-nails grandma. Ginny feels real, as do most of the characters herein, and is humanly flawed. But it is her unceasing sense of humor that keeps her narrative from veering into too pessimistic of territory or from sounding downtrodden ("I'll go straight under any number of ladders if you put the right kind of pie on the other side..." p. 8 ARC) despite the biblical amounts of crap that continually fall her way during A Grown-Up Kind of Pretty. While the three rotating POVs of the Slocumb women worked to illuminate each woman separately and uniquely, Ginny's POV was resoundingly my favorite to read for the entire duration of the book.

Mosey is the hinge upon which this whole book turns, and surprisngly, this teenager is able to bear the pressure. While I may haaaate her name, Mosey's story is by turns funny, confusing, and emotional. While my liking for Big was immediate and I was curious about Liza from the start, Mosey was a slow-burn character for me. What really reversed my indifference was her relationship with Roger. I laughed out loud at the two of them ("he was just Roger, fixing my tit for me") when they were physcially present together: their texting drove me up a wall. Prepare oneself for 1337 speak and horribly mangled sentences when reading the interchanges between the mischievous pair. The slang felt very 'Southern' but the abbreviations and such were a bit much for me to handle.

Liza is the most unformed personality among the women, but for obvious, plot-adjacent reasons. Since Liza's situation is so different from her daughter and mother, I appreciated how distinct her "voice"/thoughts were. Though this is the second book in two weeks I've read that features a female main character with a 'brain event' (The Vanishing Game being the other), Liza's story is riveting. Described as a "half girl, half hurricane", Liza was the crazy, uncontrolled member of this family tripod. Even diluted by her injuries, "Little's" narrative is easily identifiable as hers, and almost as much as I wanted to unravel the mystery of Mosey, Liza's story has a great, unpredicted, attention-grabbing twist of its own.

A Grown-Up Kind of Pretty is an easy, but very involving read. I'm not too proud to admit that several of my heartstrings were tugged very effectively, and unexpectedly often. I didn't cry, but my eyes did have tears in them at the resolution that Jackson extends to her readers. A slow beginning eases one into a story of what family really means and how the past does not have to define the future. This is not perfect, but it is very likeable and executed well. These are three very different women, all sympathetic despite any sins they have perpetrated. And for once, the rotating POV frame of storytelling worked very well - the breaks from each's story allowed for percolation of ideas/plots/assumptions. I had way more fun with this than I anticipated. My vote: give it a chance.

1 comment:

  1. Great and well written story. I will definitely read other books by this author. I loved how she started with the ending of the story at the beginning an then picked it back up.

    Dwayne Johnston (Hunting and Fishing Stores)


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