Review Blog

Nov 07 2013

Living with Jackie Chan by Jo Knowles

cover image

Candlewick Press, 2013. ISBN: 9780763662806.
(Age: 15+) Highly recommended. Themes include: Identity, Resilience, Friendship, Coming-of-age, Family, Relationships, Romance. Living with Jackie Chan is beautifully written with a very authentic portrayal of a teenage boy coming to grips with the harsh reality of his impulsive actions. Desperately keen to lose his 'virgin status', Josh sleeps with Ellie, and of course she gets pregnant. All of this occurs in a book called Jumping off Swings, which I haven't read. I don't feel I missed much by diving straight into this one, although I would be interested in the end, which must have been a downer.
At the start of this book Josh is barely holding himself together. His anger and self-hatred are powerful. Josh cannot stand to stay in his home town after his irredeemable (in his eyes) behaviour, so he moves to his uncle's apartment (about 4 hours drive away) to finish his senior year and attempt to get into College. It takes ages for Josh to really start to make peace with himself, and along the way he comes to know a group of people who help him.
First and foremost is the Jackie Chan of the novel, Josh's Uncle Larry. I tell you, this man is awesome. He is so upbeat, so funny, and so gentle with Josh who he calls Samurai Sam. His significant role in the book shouldn't be underestimated. He never pushes too hard, but the one time he does push, Josh picks up karate again with the girl-next-door, Stella.
Although their friendship develops during karate, Stella has an extremely possessive boyfriend, and the tension this creates causes much of the angst of the narrative. There is also the presence of a baby in the upstairs apartment who wakes up crying almost every morning at two. Josh is very uncomfortable and distressed around the baby and it's only when he's forced to care for him that he can stop the panic attacks. Josh's parents are their own problem and his two best friends are party animals and not very helpful. These elements intersect neatly to create a full picture of the extent of Josh's issues.
My only niggle is that several of Josh's thoughts are repeated unnecessarily throughout the story, sometimes using the same exact words. For example, Josh tells us over and over that his parents left it too late to show him they care. And the way he describes the baby was repetitive. Sometimes this was quite obvious, and it threw me out of the story.
I was really satisfied with the ending. It was positive and hopeful, but not in a cloying or over sentimental way. It was realistic and I appreciate authors who don't feel the need to sugar coat everything.
Trisha Buckley

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