Jo Ann Beard’s essay collection The Boys of My Youth has long been a favorite. No one else gets at how awkward, funny, weird, intense it can be to be a kid. I teach several of her essays in my creative nonfiction courses. She’s great. And I get the sense I’d like her. No matter what anyone says, that’s important when you’re reading about someone’s life. Memoirs, no matter how good, when they’re written by jerks, that’s no good.
So when I saw that she’d written a novel, I was on it. In Zanesville, though I’m only halfway through it, might be the best novel I’ve read from an adolescent/early teen girl narrator I’ve ever seen. Reminds me of Tony Earley’s Jim the Boy. Simple, adolescent concerns, but real danger behind everything, and real worries, and real adulthood, just around the corner. And I like this girl, the narrator. She’s smarter than her 14 years and she and her best friend, Flea, are funny together. It moves very fast, too. She’s carried over that sense of young-adult awkwardness and precociousness into her fiction. Highly recommended.