Jo is beautiful inside and out.
Hip hip hooray! What a glorious day!
I’m swinging high above the trees, and the view is amazing. I plan to stay up here awhile. Want to join me? It’s the perfect way to celebrate the official release today of Jo Knowles’s brand new young adult novel, Jumping Off Swings (Candlewick, 2009)! WooHoo!
JUMPING OFF SWINGS by Jo Knowles
(Candlewick Press, 2009), 240 pp.
Young Adult Fiction
*loving the fresh air blowing through my hair*
I’m so happy pub day is finally here, because I’ve been hearing so many good things about this book. Can’t wait to read it! I’ve been a big Jo fan ever since reading her first novel, Lessons from a Dead Girl (Candlewick, 2007). I remember being totally captivated and impressed with her writing from page one. I loved her pared down, straightforward prose — so evocative and compelling, not a word wasted. I admired her handling of a difficult, painful subject (children abusing other children), with such sensitivity and innate awareness. Jo really knows how to touch the heart and capture the anguish.
In Jumping Off Swings, she writes about another sensitive and potentially volatile issue: teen pregnancy. This time, the story is told through alternating points of view, the voices of four friends — Ellie, Josh, Caleb, and Corinne, who’ve known each other since childhood.
Ellie has been bouncing from one boy to the next, in a desperate and futile attempt to feel loved. Josh, who has a troubled home life, is eager to lose his virginity, and convinces Ellie to sleep with him in the back of his van. When he casts her off immediately after having sex, Ellie is devastated. Then she discovers she’s pregnant, and everyone must deal with the aftershock — Josh is heartbroken and ashamed; Caleb, who’s harbored a crush on Ellie for years, is hurt and angry. What follows is a swirl of emotions, unforeseen obstacles, hard choices, and the inevitable loss of innocence as all four come to realize the rammifications of a single misguided action.
Early reviews have been unanimously favorable and enthusiastic, praising the perfect pacing and overall flow of the narrative, realistic dialogue, and the multidimensional wholeness of all four protagonists. Lisa Schroeder cited Jo’s special gift for tackling "tough subjects in a way that is honest and real." Majorie Light appreciated Jo’s ability to convey a vital message and strong themes without overt moralizing: "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."
*get ready to swing even higher*
Hard-to-please Kirkus gave Jumping Off Swings a glowing review, calling it "heartbreakingly honest" and "finely executed." Just yesterday, TeensReadToo gave it a Gold Star Award, and Publisher’s Weekly gave it a *starred review*: "absorbing from first page to last . . . eloquently expresses the pain of loss innocence." The book has also been nominated to the YALSA Quick Pick List for Reluctant Readers. Apparently this novel has been seven years in the making, the result of Jo’s 2002 SCBWI Work-in-Progress Grant for Contemporary Fiction. I imagine she’s extremely proud and happy that it’s finally out in the world today, for all of us to enjoy!
Are you ready now to jump off your swings and dive right into our special bowl of celebration soup? Thank you, Jo, for your courage in writing about some of the tough issues teens face today, giving them, and all of us, honest portrayals, new understanding, insight, and hope. Congratulations on all the accolades — we’re thrilled for you!
Today’s Special: Friendship Soup (seasoned with love, compassion, and truth).
After you’re done slurping and swinging your legs from the edge of the bowl, have some of this chocolate sundae, a dessert inspired by The Chocolate Wars (turned Jo onto reading), and because her family once owned a genuine-for-real ice cream factory in New Hampshire! :9
Why are you still here? Go on — race to your nearest brick and mortar bookstore, or click over to Indiebound to order your very own copy of Jumping Off Swings. It’s a perfect summer read, and a great one to share with book clubs or reading groups. ☺
Swing high, dream big!
♥ ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥
More Soup of the Day posts here!
"Don’t give up. Write honestly and from the heart. Be brave. Work hard. Be kind to others and to yourself. Celebrate every milestone. Read at least one book a week. Never deny yourself chocolate." ~ Jo Knowles (November 2007 interview with Debbi Michiko Florence).
*Girl on swing photo by Neil Aiston.
Copyright © 2009 Jama Rattigan of jama rattigan’s alphabet soup. All rights reserved.