With sparse, lyrical language, author of His Favorites, Kate Walbert, shines a light on women’s rights as she tells us about Jo’s tragic and unsettling experiences. After being in a deadly accident at 15 years old with her best friends, Jo, a wild and now emotionally broken high school student is sent off to boarding school. Her life at home crumbled, her friendships broken, and the new beginning her life away at school had the potential of being is not going in the right direction. Memories and stories weave together our understanding of who Jo is…and how an irresponsible female teenager, faced with tragedy and then coerced by a sweet talking man, may not get the support she needed to fight back and stand up for herself.
With Jo’s best friend dead and her parents separated, she blames herself and feels the heavy weight of responsibility. To start fresh she begins attending a boarding school, but not with a clean slate. She is consumed with guilt and is having trouble fitting in. She has a labored relationship with her quirky roommate, and unacceptable interactions of the “me too” variety with a charismatic albeit inappropriate male teacher. Her vulnerability attracts trouble, her cry for help is ignored and her most effective escape from reality consists of drugs, alcohol and trying to keep her mind dark and empty.
Reading this brief 150 page book generated overwhelming feelings of hurt and sorrow, along with anger and outrage. I found Jo to be lost and desperate, abandoned by her family and friends from home, and abused and damaged by people who were supposed to help. When she reached out for support she was belittled and rejected. Like many who suffer abuse and never get the chance to speak out and be heard, Jo carries the burden and the heavy heart. This is an important book for all to read – life is not always easy but we must all lift each other up, protect one another and stand up for our rights and others. I highly recommend this one.
About the Author:
Kate Walbert was born in New York City and raised in Georgia, Texas, Japan and Pennsylvania, among other places.
She is the author of A Short History of Women, chosen by The New York Times Book Review as one of the ten best books of 2009 and a finalist for the LA Times Book Prize; Our Kind, a finalist for the National Book Award in fiction in 2004; The Gardens of Kyoto, winner of the 2002 Connecticut Book Award in Fiction in 2002; and Where She Went, a collection of linked stories and New York Times notable book.
She is the recipient of a National Endowment for the Arts fiction fellowship, a Connecticut Commission on the Arts fiction fellowship, and a Dorothy and Lewis B. Cullman Fellowship at the New York Public Library.
Her short fiction has been published in The New Yorker, The Paris Review, The Best American Short Stories and The O. Henry Prize stories.
From 1990 to 2005, she lectured in fiction writing at Yale University. She currently lives in New York City with her family.