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Once I had the pleasure of hearing Jo Knowles present at the NESCBWI agent/author panel and she was simply lovely – intelligent, gentle, and giving. Then I had the pleasure of reading an ARC of her latest novel JUMPING OFF SWINGS and that forever imprinted her in my mind. Her talent is evident here – the prose straightforward, but powerful, while the dialogue is natural and emotionally charged. I stayed up until I finished it, because I couldn’t wait for morning to discover the ending.

This YA novel examines the tragedy of teen pregnancy from four points of view – Ellie, the girl who becomes pregnant; Josh, the teen father, and Corinne and Caleb, their two best friends. That choice of having four first-person narratives is perfect, as we see how the pregnancy impacts each one. The chapters alternate between them, each labeled. Knowles’ writing is so clear and her voices so distinct, however, that I found myself actually ignoring the titles as I rushed to see what would happen next…and I always knew whose voice I was hearing.

The imagery in JUMPING OFF SWINGS is well done, too. I especially loved the scenes in the playground, tender, laced with regret. Knowles makes each setting distinct and provides the reader with enough variety to keep it interesting, but not so much that it confuses. The structure of the novel is even, with a nice flow from beginning to end. The plot arc pulls us through each scene, tugging us toward the ending, as we yearn for answers to Ellie’s situation.

As an educator and writer, I always love a book for teens that has a vital message and strong themes. Often times, unfortunately, authors feel they need to beat the reader over the head with both to get them to understand. Jo Knowles knows better. She understands her readers. She doesn’t say, “Hey, kids, let’s all remember: don’t have a baby when you’re still a kid yourself!” Instead, she shows us the pain it causes, the chasms it creates, and the scars it leaves. She gently takes us by the hand and leads us along the darkened path, illuminating the characters’ souls, exposing their needs and wants to all. We are left to make our own decisions, but her writing is so poignant and lyrical – and true – that there is really only one path we can follow after the last word is read.

Sadly, I had a friend who experienced a similar situation to Ellie’s when she was young. Her gut-wrenching sobs came back to me as I read this novel. Knowles captures that angst perfectly. Her characters wrestle with the same torments, made all the worse when Ellie’s pregnancy becomes known. At one point, I actually clutched the book to me and cried, as if I was consoling my friend all those years ago.

The dialogue throughout is thoughtful and natural, and even though there are surprises with the plot, it is all so realistic. Teens will love this novel for the straightforward way it deals with a sensitive topic and the path Knowles takes in capturing the anguish. Although the subject matter is weighty, the reader is shown patches of light through use of humor and the strong theme of friendship.

This YA novel has both adult situations and language, but is not too graphic. Both male and female teens will appreciate the style and alternating points of view and JUMPING OFF SWINGS would make for great discussions with literature circles and book clubs. Adult readers, especially women, will find this novel of interest, as well. If you are searching for a novel that will touch your heart and leave you contemplating it long after you are finished, read JUMPING OFF SWINGS by Jo Knowles.

Available August 11, 2009 by Candlewick Press from both indie bookstores near you and major booksellers! To see Jo Knowles' website, click here.


( 11 comments — Leave a comment )
Jul. 23rd, 2009 02:02 am (UTC)
Great review, Marjorie! (And wasn't it just awesome?!) Jo's first book, LESSONS FROM A DEAD GIRL, is wonderful, too. I'd loan it to you, but one of our college babysitters borrowed it and never gave it back. (It was that good.)

Jul. 23rd, 2009 02:33 am (UTC)
I guess I have a list to bring with me to The Flying Pig Bookstore! Thanks for the recommendations!
Jul. 23rd, 2009 01:25 pm (UTC)
Just so you know, you have WHEN YOU REACH ME at camp. It's the other book I dropped off with SWINGS. ~K
Jul. 23rd, 2009 02:14 pm (UTC)
Ah yes, so it is! My lovely, lovely pile of books on the mantle. I feel like Gollum with his precious. *stroking spines of books*
Jul. 23rd, 2009 11:14 am (UTC)
Nice review, Marjorie! And so true. I love the characters in this book.
Jul. 23rd, 2009 02:15 pm (UTC)
Thanks! I'm glad I was able to read and review such a wonderful piece of writing!
Jul. 23rd, 2009 11:36 am (UTC)
Isn't it great when a book keeps you up late in summer, and then you can sleep in a bit?

I'm looking forward to this. I love your description of how you could just skim over the narrator labels as the voices were so strong. That is something. And the heart and anguish: Jo's trademarks.

Thanks for the review that wet my appetite!
Jul. 23rd, 2009 02:19 pm (UTC)
Thanks - I'm glad the review whet your appetite (although you would have THAT book on your list already, I know!).
: )
You are right about her writing being full of heart! Enjoy your summer reads...

Speaking of appetite's...I think I need chocolate now.
Jul. 23rd, 2009 12:26 pm (UTC)
Wonderful review, Marjorie! I'm so looking forward to another of Jo's books.
Jul. 23rd, 2009 02:21 pm (UTC)
Thanks - It is easy to craft a review when the writing is as good as Jo's. You will love this book as much as you loved her others!
Jul. 24th, 2009 06:58 pm (UTC)
I can't wait to read Jumping Off Swings! I loved Jo's first book.
( 11 comments — Leave a comment )

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