Book Review│Jack Kerouac is Dead to Me by Gae Polisner

jackJL Markham is a 15-year-old girl who is out of sorts with her world around her. She lives with her mentally-ill mother, has lost her best friend to a group of other girls and her dad is on a business trip that keeps getting extended. She decides to write a long-flowing letter to her friend Aubrey, letting her know what has happened since the two girls had parted ways. She is hopelessly trying to cling to things from her old life even if those things are leading her down a path of self-destruction. 

Additionally, JL is also madly in puppy love with a senior named Max who is rough on the outside, but also shows her that on the inside he has the soul of a poet. Their age difference causes problems in that Max is ready to pack up and get the heck out of town once senior year ends, but what about JL? At only 15, she’s stuck between staying and disobeying her parents to run away with Max.

Gae Polisner’s Jack Kerouac is Dead to Me is a story of coming of age and the frailty of female friendships during that pivotal time in young women’s lives. JL is stuck between who she is going to become and who she is going to have let go of. It is never an easy time or decision to begin living in your future instead of your past. This is Polisner’s fifth young adult novel and she shines with it. The voice of JL is poignantly 15-years-old and not overly dramatic or overly subtle like some writers go when writing younger characters. Jack Kerouac is Dead to Me is a believable story of a young girl trying to find herself on the other side of adolescence while not completely losing who and what she was before. I would recommend this book for adults as well as middle-grade readers who are looking for something a little more in-depth.

While a 15-year-old’s love story might not be something most adults would pick up, I think you will find that Polisner has written this so well that it brings you back to your own time as a young girl in love for the first time, trying to navigate your relationships, your friendships and your own dreams. The darkness and the tragedies that befall JL show the strength of youth in times of adversity and how even though we may be young when we face them, we very much feel them every step of our journey through them. When you pick this one up, get ready for an authentic and emotionally raw journey through adolescence and your first love.

Book Information

Jack Kerouac is Dead to Me by Gae Polisner is scheduled to be released on April 7, 2020 from Wednesday Books, an imprint of St. Martin’s Press with ISBN 9781250312235. This review corresponds to an advanced electronic galley that was supplied by the publisher in exchange for this review. All thoughts are entirely my own and I have not received any compensation for this review.

Book Review│I’m Not Dying with You Tonight by Gilly Segal and Kimberly Jones

dyingThe overall premise of Segal and Jones’s I’m Not Dying with You Tonight is that two girls from very different worlds collide when chaos breaks out at a football game that they both decided to attend. Before this night, neither of them knew of the other but they find that they must rely on each other in order to survive.

The Conflict

Campbell is the new girl in school. She has just moved to Atlanta and is treated much like new kids usually are– as an outcast with no friends and that feeling of not belonging. Campbell is also white and is perceived by Lena to be just another “rich white girl.”While Lena, on the other hand, is black, and she is popular with a killer boyfriend and knows that she is going to make it big. She sees her entire life before her and is excited for where she is headed.

The two girls do not know each other before the Friday night game. They choose to attend it and are thrown together out of circumstance. A fight breaks out at the game and a police officer is shot. Chaos quickly takes over and a riot ensues. The girls are thrown together in the hysteria and quickly realize that they must rely on each other for survival.

Surviving Atlanta

Atlanta is a tough city as is. My first residency for my doctoral degree took me there in 2015. We were in such a rough area of the city that we were told not to leave the hotel. Which was crazy to me because the hotel we stayed at was the hotel that was used for The Capital in The Hunger Games. We were told repeatedly that if you did not know Atlanta not to venture out.

It seems like that advice was solid advice because Segal and Jones paint a similar picture of Atlanta. In I’m Not Dying with You Tonight, Campbell and Lena are tossed onto the streets of Atlanta as they try to avoid the chaos and the violence that has erupted following the fight and the subsequent shooting that occurred. They realize that their only escape towards Lena’s boyfriend and eventually home is to get through Tilman Park, the “worst hood in Atlanta.”

Surviving Each Other

Along with surviving the violence that has overtaken much of the city, the girls also have to address and survive their biases towards one another. Lena is the popular girl while Campbell is just trying to get through school. Lena thinks Campbell is just another rich white girl even though that can’t be farther from the truth and Campbell reveals her own biases towards Lena in their dialogue and decisions she makes towards their survival.

This is a rather short YA read at 150 pages so the novel does not go deeply into the race relations, ideas on privilege and teenage female friendship– but the nuances are there and this could serve as a springboard for much more in-depth conversations with the younger side of Young Adult readers. I will be adding a few copies to my classroom library this fall.

Overall, while in places the book feels very character driven at the start, it quickly turns to plot driven as the girls spend the remainder of the novel jumping from place to place trying to get to Lena’s boyfriend so that he can get them home. The drive to reach Lena’s boyfriend was a little odd to me because he was not answering any of her calls. Why would you put your life on the line to get to him if he wasn’t answering his phone? Why not try to get home without the help of your boyfriend? Ultimately, the girls do each get home and we are left to wonder if a friendship will now develop between the two and if in attempting a friendship if the girls’ biases towards one another would ever be fully addressed and resolved.

Book Information

I’m Not Dying with You Tonight by Gilly Segal and Kimberly Jones is scheduled to be released on October 1, 2019 from Sourcebooks Fire with ISBN  1492678899. This review corresponds to an advanced electronic galley that was received from the publisher in exchange for this review. To be linked to special pre-order pricing, click the link above!