This is not the Jess Show by Anna Carey

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Swickley is a small town with all the features of other American small towns in the 1990s, though it has had its fair share of disasters and incidents over the years. Jess is a typical high school teen, worrying about relationships, school and family issues. She lives with her hyper organised and controlling mother and her rather detached father, and has a close relationship with her bedridden sister, Sarah, who has slowly deteriorating health. Jess’s two best friends, Amber and Kristen are always ready to dissect Jess’s life and especially so when she admits to harbouring feelings for her friend and neighbour Ty who recently seems to have been flirting with her.  Music is an important part of Jess’s life; she plays keyboard in the school band and listens to all the latest songs, sharing CDs with Sarah. At one time she pestered her parents into letting her take guitar lessons but after six lessons the teacher asked her if she had ever wondered about the nature of reality and after that she was told he had some sort of breakdown and never came back, foreshadowing other dissonances in Jess’s life. When Jess becomes aware of distant chanting that people around her seem unable to hear and Amber is evasive about a strange shiny object dropped from her bag, the dissonances start to add up, culminating in the replacement of her dog Fuller with one that looks the same.

Suffused with 90’s popular culture references and well-crafted predicable characters, this enjoyable story holds up for us as well as Jess, the narrator, until it doesn’t. The second half shifts our perception and holds a mirror up to our society’s obsession with other people’s lives, influencers and marketing. A clever concept, well executed.

Themes: Teen romance, Friendship, Reality TV.

Sue Speck