From the Publisher
Starred review, Publishers Weekly, March 24, 2008:
"Readers will get a genuine kick out of Jane's fumblings and successes, both imaginary and real."
Review, Kirkus Reviews:
"The rich details and large cast of characters simultaneously give Jane’s perspective on events and allow glimpses between the lines. Gonzalez shows how a myriad of plot lines click together in a satisfying and deceptively lowkey resolution."
Gonzalez's (Wings) ne'er-do-well heroine, Jane, isn't as plain or boringly normal as she perceives herself to be. On the contrary, her quick wit and quirky personality win over readers almost immediately. As this entrancing novel follows her from elementary school into high school, Jane slowly but surely transforms from an apathetic slacker into an artistic free-thinker with a style all her own. If some of her growing pains seem familiar-her not-so-secret unrequited crush on a middle school heart-throb; being dumped by her high school boyfriend for a blonde über-sophisticate-Gonzalez has a gift for infusing them with clever details. That Jane pens short missives to her imaginary enemy, Bubba (short for Beelzebub), about what's wrong in her life is funny; that "Bubba" actually writes back, in hopes of meeting face to face, is even funnier, especially with the revelation of Bubba's true identity. Gonzalez brings the same wit to Jane's competitive yet affectionate relationships with her siblings and her eccentric neighbors, and to her burgeoning romance with the shy but steadfast boy next door. Readers will get a genuine kick out of Jane's fumblings and successes, both imaginary and real. Ages 12-up. (Mar.)Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
Children's Literature - Keri Collins Lewis
Jane White is a normal girl with an unusual method for dealing with life's personal disasters: she blames Beelzebub, her imaginary enemy. From an incident involving spilled milk when she is in the second grade, through high school, Jane writes letters to "Bubba" whenever things do not go her way, which is pretty often from her point of view. Told in a series of first-person childhood recollections, the book reads more like a memoir than a novel, as it follows Jane through key events loosely connected by the people in her life: her relatives, her friends, and her next-door neighbors, the colorful and musical deMichaels family. Jane does not grow as a character as much as she simply grows up, finding a passion for cooking, a job at the Waffle House, a boyfriend who dumps her, and a creative streak along the way. Constant battles with her siblings and the boys next door eventually give way to friendship. The story basically has no plot until Jane discovers she is falling in love with Sharp deMichaels, subsequently receives a letter from her imaginary enemy, and tracks down the sender. While Jane's predilection for underachievement, irresponsibility, and sibling rivalry provides some funny and imaginative moments, the lack of any apparent external or internal goals, motivation, and conflict prevent the novel from having the momentum necessary to engage the reader. Reviewer: Keri Collins Lewis
AGERANGE: Ages 12 to 18.
This book reads a bit more like a memoir than a novel. Loosely plotted and somewhat episodic, it traces the maturation of Jane Venezuela White from about six years old until she’s 16. From the time she learns to write, whenever trouble comes her way, often the result of her own choices, she scribbles a letter to Bubba, short for Beezelbub, and blames him. She keeps all these letters in a blue folder stuffed behind her school papers. Jane narrates episodes from her elementary school years, her relationships with the eccentric but interesting and lovable neighbor family, her first kisses, her first real boyfriend, the making of girlfriends, her attitudes towards school and teachers, and her relationship with her parents and neighbors. None of this is earth shattering; it’s mostly the chronicle of an ordinary girl’s experience growing up. Over the course of the years, she slowly matures and turns from a brat into a competent and caring young woman. What distinguishes Jane is her letters to Bubba. Now, Beezelbub is one of the devil’s names, which is why she calls him her imaginary enemy; however, sometimes she seems to write to him as if he were God, making her theology somewhat confusing. Jane gets even more confused when one day she receives an answer from Bubba to all her hate mail, and a proposal to meet in person. This causes her to question her own sanity since she’s well aware that Bubba is imaginary. Her meeting with Bubba, and who he turns out to be, is the climax. Otherwise, this book is a delightful ramble through an American girl’s growing-up years. Reviewer: Myrna Marler
March 2008 (Vol. 42, No.2)
School Library Journal
Instead of an imaginary friend, Jane White has an imaginary enemy to whom she writes letters whenever she needs to vent her frustrations, revealing her most vulnerable thoughts and insecurities. The story begins when Jane pens her first missive in second grade, wends through the complexities of middle school, and ends when she is an 11th grader wrestling with relationships and rediscovering the boy next door. Throughout, Jane's narration remains static, resulting in a jaded-sounding middle schooler and a naive 16-year-old. Her neighbors, a family of eccentric musicians, color Jane's existence and make for quirky companions and romantic interests. Jane gradually matures, slowly learning to take responsibility for her actions, but the other characters do not undergo much growth. Several plot threads are not fully developed or seem rushed or contrived. Pacing is somewhat uneven, especially when the focus moves away from action and dialogue to quick descriptive sections that serve to advance time, and the narration is sometimes choppy. With an ambitious and interesting premise and a mystery at the book's conclusion, this is ultimately an additional story with some fun, unexpected moments.-Amy J. Chow, The Brearley School, New York City
Bubba, short for Beezlebub, is Jane's imaginary enemy, the responsible party for all the misfortunes of her life from second grade onward. Since her enemy is powerful, Jane sends him cantankerous epistles detailing her complaints, signing them "Gabriel." A member of a complicated family living next door to an equally complex though compatibly aligned family, Jane feels she's the oddball out when all those around her seem to be blithely dancing to their own unique tunes. Little does she realize that her own ability to confront Bubba is what shows readers she fits in quite nicely with her own brand of style. As Jane grows into adulthood, the rich details and large cast of characters simultaneously give Jane's perspective on events and allow glimpses between the lines. Gonzalez shows how a myriad of plot lines click together in a satisfying and deceptively low-key resolution illustrating Jane/Gabriel's prankish playfulness and her growing acceptance of responsibility for her own choices. (Fiction. YA)
Read an Excerpt
It’s not unusual to have an imaginary friend. Many people do (or did, at any rate, somewhere in their histories). But me? I can honestly tell you that I have no imaginary friend. Not one.
What I have is an imaginary enemy. He’s such a satisfying companion—very therapeutic to have around. He’s helped me through a number of personal disasters and misadventures over the years. I call my imaginary enemy Bubba—short for Beelzebub, which is a biblical devil’s name. Pretty good way to address an enemy, wouldn’t you agree?
Bubba’s not necessarily physically unattractive, but this is one of those “it’s what’s on the inside that counts” situations. ’Cause that’s where Bubba reveals his true colors—on the inside. He’s a sneak and a liar and a troublemaker who delights in seeing my life go wrong. My miseries are his homemade ice cream. My heartbreaks are his Godiva chocolates. My failures are his double cheeseburgers and deep-dish pizzas. You get the picture.
When Bubba makes me angry, I write him a letter expressing my displeasure. The first time I wrote to Bubba was in second grade.
You spilled milk on the lunchroom floor. I slipped in it and ripped a hole in my new overalls. My knee bled. Everyone laughed. I don’t like you.
Sinfully yours, Gabriel
Gabriel isn’t my real name. It’s just the name I use in my relationship with Bubba. No point in being overly familiar with an enemy, especially an imaginary one. Gabriel, like Bubba, is biblical—one of the heavenly superstars, along with his pals Michael and Raphael. Gabriel is chief of the archangels—God’s right-hand halo polisher. Kind of like vice president if God is top dog. I imagine him to have beautiful ivory-colored wings tipped with moonlight and a halo of red gold that undulates like the ripples on the surface of a pond.
With my Bubba letter clasped in my hand, I asked my teacher, Mrs. Perkins, for a piece of tape, but when she realized I wanted to hang my message on the classroom wall, she refused. “Jane, why are you writing Buddha a letter about spilled milk?” she asked.
“The founder of the religion Buddhism. He was a very wise spiritual leader.”
“Not Buddha, Bubba,” I replied insistently. Cold air from the air conditioner breezed though the hole in the knee of my overalls.
Mrs. Perkins raised her eyebrow. Just one eyebrow. That was the coolest thing about her—she could raise her left eyebrow like a marine raising the flag up the pole. “Then you inverted your lowercase Bs again.” She tapped the letter. “Who’s Bubba?”
“A dirty rotten milk-spilling creep,” I answered.
“Go sit down and behave yourself, Jane.” Mrs. Perkins sounded exasperated. I stalked back to my seat clutching Bubba’s letter and stashed it in my math folder. A fairly modest beginning to what has proven to be a long and fruitless relationship.
Since you know my name’s not really Gabriel, I might as well tell you the three embarrassing appellations my parents attached to my birth certificate sixteen years ago. I can’t believe they did me such dishonor. Start with Jane. That’s J-A-N-E. As in Plain Jane, which the more poetic schoolyard bullies have called me since kindergarten. Along with Birdbrain Jane, Migraine Jane, and Jane the Pain. All because my parents named me after this prehistoric aunt of Mom’s who they particularly admire.
My middle name’s even worse. Venezuela—like the South American country. Great name for a country. Very lyrical and seductive. But a middle name for a girl? Venezuela? That’s where my parents met. It was nothing terribly romantic if you ask me. My mother was visiting her college roommate, a beautiful but unsuccessful South American poet, and my recently divorced father was on a fishing vacation with his brother, my uncle Grayson. Dad’s cooler of semifrozen baitfish leaked on Mom’s suitcase in the hotel elevator, and she insisted he buy her a new one because of the awful smell and the stains. Who knew they’d end up with a bunch of kids and a dog? When I complain about my name, Dad thinks it’s a real laugh to say, “We could have named you Caracas instead of Jane.” (For the geographically impaired, Caracas is the capital of Venezuela.)
Now (drumroll, please) for my absolutely generic last name: White. Like clouds or snow or cotton. Like flour or sugar or milk. Like boredom.
When I was just over a year old, my parents got frisky. My brother Lysander was born nine and a half months later. He’s named after one of the confused, love-struck youths in Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream (Dad’s a Shakespeare freak). My brother hates his name. Go figure. He tells everyone to call him Zander.
Sixteen months after Zander came my sister, Carmella, whose name evokes visions of bonfires, gypsy music, starlit nights, and silver bangles. Me Jane, Plain Jane—You Carmella. Talk about a prize-winning recipe for some vicious sibling rivalry.
Shakespeare might have his “What’s in a name?” thing, but he wasn’t dubbed Jane Venezuela White. Why would you ever allow anyone to go through life being addressed so blandly? And you claim to love me.
A rose by any other name, Gabriel
My half brother, Luke, who’s five years older than me, sat by my side on the sofa playing a video game. He’s the offspring of Dad’s youthful marriage to his high-school sweetheart, Sandy. “Gotcha,” Luke said as his character zapped mine. The screen lit up in neon blue flashes as my player sizzled and lost a dose of power.
“Bully,” I snarled.
He laughed. “No crybabies allowed.”
“I’m no crybaby,” I protested. Crybaby was the ultimate insult someone could hurl at an ornery seven- year-old.
“Pay attention, loser!” He detonated his weapon and my character strobed once again.
I pushed a pulsating radioactive boulder over him. “Take that!”
His character fizzled out in a puff of purple smoke. “Yikes!” he exclaimed, laughing.
“I like it when you come over,” I said. Luke spent Wednesdays and alternate weekends with us. And sometimes he came for unscheduled visits. This was one of those. He’d ridden his bike to our house after school.