Author: Joshilyn Jackson
Publisher: Grand Central Publishing
Price: $25.99 (Cloth)
04/30/2012 "A Grown-up Kind of Pretty" is Joshilyn Jackson's fifth novel. Her large cadre of readers will be pleased to know there are many echoes and similarities to the earlier books. The characters are quirky, struggling, blue-collar Southerners with seemingly insurmountable problems and "Pretty" is, like several earlier books, a combination of crime novel and romance, with an atmosphere of small-town southern gossip and melodrama and some nice satire on Southern class distinctions and pretensions.
But Jackson also shows some new moves in structure and subject matter.
Set in contemporary Mississippi, in fictional Immita, near Pascagoula, the novel is told in turns by three female characters.
It is in fact a three-generational novel, although the generations are shockingly close together. The grandmother, Ginny, called Big, is only 45 years old. Her daughter, Liza, is 30 and Liza's daughter, Mosey, is about to be 15.
Big is worried. The Slocumb women are early maturers. By fifteen they look "a grown-up kind of pretty." Ginny (Big) says: "I was fifteen when I gave birth to Liza. Then, fifteen years later, Liza had her own girl."
Big tells us: "it was a trouble year. Every fifteen years God flicks at us with one careless finger and we spin helplessly off into the darkness."
The trouble for the Slocombs usually arrives in the form of an unwanted pregnancy. In the cases of both Big and Liza, they know who the father is but never tell anyone. Two more mysteries to be solved.
Big worries about young Mosey but she is in fact a virgin. She's never even been kissed by a boy but she compulsively keeps taking home pregnancy tests, fearing that she cannot escape the family fate, even through abstinence.
When the novel opens, bad luck is arriving in bundles.
Liza has had what looks like a stroke. She is partially paralyzed and can't speak, but we do get access to her thoughts, even if she can't express them aloud.
Big decides to cut down a willow tree to put a swimming pool in the yard for Liza's physical therapy, and when the tree is uprooted a silver box appears, with a baby's skeleton in it.
Readers of "gods in Alabama" will remember that Jackson likes to bury things.
Liza is very upset but cannot speak and therefore cannot explain. The dead baby was probably her infant daughter, but if that is so, who is Mosey?
This mystery must be solved, and Mosey and her friend Roger become teen sleuths, like Nancy Drew in the 21st century, while Big investigates separately.
Mosey and Roger, being teens, communicate relentlessly by text, and Jackson suggests a new effect of texting. Not only do text messages corrupt the English language nearly to extinction but now apparently teens speak in text—as in saying aloud things like OMG.
Jackson likes to put her characters on the road, and in their investigations these characters will travel to the Mississippi Coast and to Alabama, in search of clues.
Trying to keep Liza from being arrested for infanticide, Big seeks out the help of an old friend, Lawrence, a state policeman, and it seems she may at last find love. The reader is glad to see this because Big, a devoted mother and grandmother, has lost, voluntarily given up, both her youth and young womanhood, and as a still-vivacious 45-year-old is certainly entitled to a fine romance.