Sunday, April 28, 2013

The Next Time You See Me, by Holly Goddard Jones

Emily is an eighth-grader in Roma, Kentucky. She has no friends and spends the hours after school wandering around the woods near her house. One day, she discovers a woman's body--but she decides not to tell anyone. Having this secret makes her feel special, something she doesn't feel in any other part of her life. 

Her teacher, Susanna Mitchell, doesn't feel special either. She is having trouble with her students and their parents, particularly bright but cocky Christopher Sheldon and his condescending mother, and is unhappy in her marriage to the high school band director. She is also worried that she hasn't heard from her sister Ronnie for more than a week. Ronnie is known as a party girl, so Susanna's husband Dale assumes she has just taken off with her latest conquest. Despite his argument, Susanna reports Ronnie to the police and is shocked to learn that the town's one detective is the baseball star she had a crush on in high school (but wouldn't date because he was African American and her alcoholic father was a racist). The detective, Tony, has problems of his own--he pops Darvocet to deal with the severe pain from the back injury that ended his baseball career.

Wyatt is a middle-aged factory worker talked into a night out drinking by younger (and manipulative) coworkers. Drunk and left to pick up the tab for the entire group from the plant, Wyatt is helped out by Ronnie, who pays part of the tab and gives him a ride home from the bar, Nancy's. Days later he has a heart attack and becomes involved with Sarah, a nurse he also met at Nancy's the night he got drunk and met Ronnie.

The Next Time You See Me is a mystery with very little mystery involved--readers know before the characters in the book that Ronnie is dead and Wyatt is her likely killer. If that weren't enough reason to dislike the book, virtually every character is unhappy if not miserable. Yet the characters are so well developed I found myself drawn into their problems, frustrations, and secrets. And I thought Jones did a fine job of capturing the class distinctions, thwarted dreams, and racial and gender prejudices of a small Southern town. The Next Time You See Me is by no means great literature, but I found it an enjoyable read/listen.

Favorite passage:
She was dressed in a costume of seriousness.

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