books and reading · reviews

Book Review: Living with Jackie Chan by Jo Knowles

Josh didn’t expect to spend his father year living with his uncle Larry miles away from home.  But after what happened last year, Josh feels such shame that he can’t face his life.  So he lives with his karate-obsessed uncle, and he goes to a new school away from his best friends.  He practices karate with Stella, the girl who lives upstairs.  They have a connection, but Stella’s possessive boyfriend keeps getting in the way.  Besides, if Stella knew the real Josh, would she even like him?

Jo Knowles’s excellent Living with Jackie Chan is the follow-up to her novel Jumping Off Swings, but readers who aren’t familiar with the first can still very much enjoy this pitch-perfect novel about mistakes, growing up, and forgiveness.  Knowles is a powerful writer, and this spare, character-driven novel is compelling through its final pages.

Josh is as shut-down as a character can be.  He’s so consumed with his own guilt and regret about leaving behind the girl he got pregnant that he won’t allow himself to feel even an ounce of happiness.  His misery is his penance, even as he tries to escape the past.  Of course, he can’t, and it’s with the help of the equally compelling characters of his uncle Larry and friend Stella that he’s able to move forward.  This growth is gradual and authentic.  Josh is an incredibly complex character, but he’s also really likable.

Unusual in its portrayal of teenage pregnancy from the male perspective, Knowles offers her readers plenty to think about.  Honest, frequently frank, and simultaneously hopeful and heartbreaking, this is great contemporary YA.  Readers will be rooting for Josh to pull through and embrace his life–and his mistakes.

Highly recommended.

Living with Jackie Chan by Jo Knowles.  Candlewick Press: 2013. Publisher copy accepted for the 2013 Cybils.

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