Wednesday, May 1, 2019

Book Review: Come Sing, Jimmy Jo by Katherine Paterson (1985)

Eleven-year-old James Johnson lives in Appalachia, where he is part of a musical family, but not a performer himself. While his parents and uncle perform bluegrass music regularly on stage, James has only ever really sung for his grandmother on the front porch. When he fills in as a back-up guitarist for The Family one night, however, James instantly appeals to the fans. Next thing he knows, he's being given the stage name of Jimmy Jo and a place in the bluegrass group as they begin appearing regularly on a country-western television show. Though Jimmy Jo finds that he enjoys the limelight, he is worried about leaving his grandmother behind at home and he feels desperate not to let the kids at his new school find out he's a star. Also troubling is his mother's growing jealousy of her son's fame, and the strange man who keeps turning up and telling James that he, and not the man who raised him, is his father.   

Though I own a hardcover, I listened to a large portion of this middle grade novel on audio. This helped me get a feel both for the way the characters speak and for the music that they play, as the narrator sang many of the lines of song included in the text. Both the audiobook narration and the writing were excellent, as was the character development. James is a very sympathetic and believable kid, and his interactions with his family, his teacher, and his classmates all rang very true.

The only thing I didn't really like about this book was the question about who was James's true father. It didn't add much of anything to the plot other than conflict among the adults and unnecessary pain and sadness for James. This book had plenty of substance before this idea was introduced, and, as it was the second book in a row by this author where paternity issues played a role, it just felt like too much. James already had enough problems with his mother's jealousy; it adds nothing to the book to further strain their relationship.

I will say, though, that the ending of this book wraps up the story beautifull. The final paragraph is so good, I repeated it several times on the audiobook just to savor it a bit more. It's worth sticking with it through that paternity storyline to feel the full resonance of those ending lines.

No comments:

Post a Comment