Looking for JJ - Anne Cassidy


Summary from Goodreads:
Three children walked away from the cottages on the edge of town toward Berwick Waters. Later that day, only two of them came back. . . . Alice Tully knows exactly what happened that spring day six years ago, though it's still hard for her to believe it. She'll never be able to forget, even though she's trying to lead a normal life--she has a job, friends, and a boyfriend whom she adores. But Alice's past is dangerous, and violent, and sad . . . and it's about to rip her new life apart. Includes a reader's guide.


This book is one of my wife's absolute favourites so I knew I would love it, but little did I know that it would literally blow me away. It felt like a punch in the stomach. Over and over again. I haven't felt like reading a lot of YA lately, and I even fell out of love with it slightly. But reading this book reminded me why I loved young adult fiction so much.

We start the book with 17-year-old Alice Tully who is working as a waitress in a coffee shop. Alice seems to be obsessed by a crime committed six-years ago by 10-year-old Jennifer Jones. Jennifer Jones killed her friend and has been in prison ever since. The media loved that story and Jennifer has been in and out of the papers for half a decade. Now the media is in uproar because she is soon to be released.

It might be a slight spoiler to say that Alice is none other than Jennifer Jones herself. She has been given a new identity and is trying to start her life again. She was released six months earlier so that journalists wouldn't find her easily. It would sound like Alice's life is set to be a real new start, with a job, a boyfriend and University starting soon. But the newspapers keep talking about Jennifer Jones and Alice's guilt is eating away at her. No matter how far she is from her old life, the past always seems to find her again. 

The book starts with Alice Tully in her new life and is followed by a part narrated by Jennifer Jones where we see events that lead up to the tragic death of one of her friends. The structure is notable because it helps the reader get into Alice's head before knowing her past. A way for us not to be blinded by our prejudices. If the parts were swapped, I'm not entirely sure we would feel exactly the same way... The writing is so strong and raw. I was in Alice's head straightaway and felt her pain. 

I loved the portrayal of all the characters, they all had their positives and negatives and felt realistic. I was fascinated by Alice and how she relates to her boyfriend and Rosie (the social worker she lives with) as she doesn't have a great deal of experience when it comes to having what we would call "normal" relationships with people and especially boys.

There are a lot of themes in this book. Themes that make you think. Themes that hit you to the most profound of your beliefs. Can a child be inherently bad or can a terrible upbringing justify a bad action? Nature vs. nurture. Does society need to know about everything? Should a person who commits a crime be condemned for life or can they change? Do they have to relinquish their right to privacy? How much intrusion can we justify for our own security?
This book is so important because it asks the right questions and leaves it to you to provide an answer. It's easy to forget that this book was published ten years ago because the story resonates today more than ever. We have the same issues of culpability, nature vs. nurture and privacy. 

If you're looking for a brilliant example of quality contemporary YA, look no further.

Excitingly, a sequel is being released later this year. If you want to read a blog post by Anne Cassidy about writing a sequel ten years after publishing the first book, it's over here: "Never Say Never: The Story of a Sequel

1 comment:

  1. I loved this book and your review! I've also linked to this in the review I just posted of Finding Jennifer Jones - hope that that's OK x