What's Up With Jody Barton?
Written by: Hayley Long
Publisher: Macmillan Children's Books
It is difficult to review this book without giving away the surprising plot twist waiting about midway through the book. So let me begin by saying that this book is about sexual identity and friendship. It also addresses the issue of high school bullying.
Jody and Jolene are sixteen year old twins, but unlike each other in every way. Jody is the quiet one, unashamed of liking math , hanging out with geeks and adoring The Doors and River Phoenix. Jolene is loud and self-centred, and has raised flirting with boys to a fine art. They live above their parents’ diner and help out with cooking and service after school. When both of them fall for dashing Liam, Jody steps back – after all, who stands a chance against Jolene’s charms, right? But then Liam starts hanging out with Jody, and Jody instinctively responds .. with disastrous consequences. Liam, in the time honored tradition of golden-haired boys in teen lit, turns out to be a mean and small-minded bully , and soon Jody is victimized by pretty much everyone at school.
As narrator, and occasional illustrator, of this story, Jody had my attention at once. Jody is smart, funny and knowing , as well as genially tolerant of what could well be the world’s ‘uncoolest’ parentsand a truly obnoxious sister. Hayley Long’s writing is fresh and funny, and her characters realistic. I enjoyed the way she slyly plays with reader perception, drawing us along what we immediately assume is a story about two sisters warring over a boy, before dropping that plot twist on us. I found myself immediately drawn into Jody’s world and angst, and the dilemma of ‘coming out’ in a world unwilling to accept any behavior outside of set social norms. Like much British fiction these days, this book has its share of mean, self centred girls, roving the town in loud, under-dressed packs, and obsessing over little besides boys and make up. In fact, that pretty much sums up every significant female character in the book, though Jolene does redeem herself a tad towards the end, when she finally stands up for Jody against Liam. But it also gives us lovely characters like quiet math-head Chatty Chong, who sticks by Jody when no one else will, and Jody’s football-crazy Dad. I also liked the believable, and decidedly unromantic path the plot took at the end – it emphasized the importance of friendship , acceptance and a child’s right to freely be him/herself without fear of social prejudice.
Image Courtesy: Macmillan
Image Courtesy: Macmillan