Jack Kerouac is Dead to Me by Gae Polisner

‘Is it wrong to do stuff with a person you love?’

JL (Jean Louise) Markham is 15 years old, and she’s having a tough year.  Her father is on a business trip, which keeps getting extended, and her mother has retreated into her own world.  JL’s best friend Aubrey doesn’t seem to have much time for JL anymore: she has made new friends.  If it wasn’t for the tropical butterflies that JL raises (thanks to her grandmother) life would be bleak.  Except for Max. 

Max Gordon is JL’s 19-year-old boyfriend.  He’s about to graduate and then he intends to hit the road: leaving Long Island for California.  JL would like to go with him. Whatever life with Max holds in store, it is surely better than being left behind.  Her mother is unwell, and JL’s best friend has deserted her in favour of other friends. Aubrey does not like Max.  What can keep JL home? 

While much of this story is contained with a couple of months of JL’s sophomore year, what has happened earlier is also important. The story unfolds through a letter JL writes to Aubrey, a letter in which she tries to explain what happened.

‘What is it that makes us suddenly remember, Aubrey?  What makes us take notice of what is actually around us, rather than what we want to see?

I’m not going to write more about the actual story: each reader will take it at his or her own pace; each reader will have their own reaction.  I remember being 15 years old (almost half a century ago).  I remember having to try to work out which choices to make, and possible consequences.  I remember being overwhelmed.  Reading this novel takes me right back into that space, thankful I survived. And JL?  Which choices will she make?

This is Ms Polisner’s fifth YA novel, and the fourth I have read.  (Yes, ‘The Summer of Letting Go’ is still on my reading list.  I have bought a copy; I just need to schedule time to read it.)  Ms Polisner continues to create believable characters and places them in challenging (but realistic) situations.  Highly recommended both for young (and not so young) adults.

Note: My thanks to NetGalley and St Martin’s Press for providing me with a free electronic copy of this book for review purposes.

Jennifer Cameron-Smith