Book Review: Looking for JJ (Anne Cassidy)

Publisher: Scholastic Canada

Pages: 304

Release Date: February 1st 2006

Summary (from Goodreads):

Three children walked away from the cottages on the edge of town toward Berwick Waters. Later that day, only two of them came back. Alice Tully knows exactly what happened that spring day six years ago, though it’s still hard for her to believe it. She’ll never be able to forget, even though she’s trying to lead a normal life—she has a job, friends, and a boyfriend whom she adores. But Alice’s past is dangerous, and violent, and sad… and it’s about to rip her new life apart.

Review:

This is a book I read and loved as a teen. When a sequel was released in 2014 I couldn’t wait to get my hands on it, and now I finally have (a lovely birthday present from Nathan). It’s also a good excuse to reread an old favourite.

Looking for JJ tackles a difficult subject matter, and one I’ve not encountered before, in adult or YA books (not to say it hasn’t been done, but I don’t think it’s widely written about). At 10 years old, Jennifer Jones murders her best friend. Whatever reasons or excuses you can make for her – her difficult upbringing, her mum’s prostitution, a sudden flash of temper – she still did it.

Six years later, Jennifer has been released from a secure unit and has a new identity. She struggles with what she did in the past, with hiding her identity from the new relationships she makes, and she wonders if she deserves this life and deserves to be happy.

The book is split into several parts, dealing with Jennifer’s upbringing, the day of the murder and what happened next, and her life now. It’s really fascinating to read a book from a child murderer’s point of view. I’ve read about similar cases in the news and always thought the children must be horrible and born evil. If I read Jennifer’s story as just the murder and none of the backstory then I’d probably think the same. But seeing the series of events leading up to it, and how she behaves all these years later, it’s a lot more conflicting. While you can’t forget she did something horrible, you also sympathise with her.

When her past does, as the blurb says, rip her new life apart, I felt really sorry for her. Even if she did do something bad, there’s something about her character that just makes you want her to succeed. I really liked how Cassidy gets into her mind and we see her struggling to accept what she’s done. There’s also a really amazing line which I just loved, where Jennifer says she feels she doesn’t deserve a nice life after taking someone else’s, and she’s told that then she’s wasting two lives, and she owes it to the dead girl to live.

I never really expected a sequel to this story, so I’ll be really interested to see what happened to her next, and how she’s coping with everything after a couple of years of freedom.

4

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