Little Miss Strange

( 4 )


Sarajean Henry is a child of love children. She's perfectly at home in a place where there are no real "homes," no last names, and no commitments to the future - the free-love, hippie world of 1970s Denver. The story she tells achieves its beauty - and its power - through details that offer a startlingly unfiltered view of an exotic counterculture. The story begins when Sarajean is a preschooler living with Jimmy Henry, a Vietnam vet she accepts as her father. Whoever her mother might have been, she disappeared ...
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Little Miss Strange: A Novel

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Sarajean Henry is a child of love children. She's perfectly at home in a place where there are no real "homes," no last names, and no commitments to the future - the free-love, hippie world of 1970s Denver. The story she tells achieves its beauty - and its power - through details that offer a startlingly unfiltered view of an exotic counterculture. The story begins when Sarajean is a preschooler living with Jimmy Henry, a Vietnam vet she accepts as her father. Whoever her mother might have been, she disappeared long ago. Sarajean successfully scams and scavenges her way through childhood, overcoming such obstacles as Jimmy Henry's heroin habit and having Miss Rinaldi, the Queen Bitch of Homework, for third grade. By age five, she's finding her own way to the "free school;" by age ten, she's smoking pot. By the time she comes of age, she's seen enough sex and violence to last a lifetime. Sarajean sees her world exactly as it is, but doesn't judge it. She waits. She watches. She listens. And, from carelessly discarded clues, she knits together the identity she craves in much the same way she acquires new "rags" in which to dress each newly discovered aspect of her maturing self. Told in a voice as clear and true as sunlight, this is a classic novel about the resilience of the human spirit. In Sarajean Henry, a girl who understands what "family" really means and where to find it, Joanna Rose has created an invincible and unforgettable character. She has, at the same time, evoked a tumultuous American era and explained how we lived through it.

Sarajean, a child of the '70s, begins her story in a free-love, first-names-only, hippie commune in Denver. Little Miss Strange achieves its beauty--and its power--by way of details that offer an unfiltered view of an exotic counterculture as experienced by the child as she becomes a woman. And it is through the accrual of those details that the reader finds--along with Sarajean--satisfaction in the truth of the secrets hidden from her until the very last page.

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Editorial Reviews

Rob Spillman

The life of a smart young girl who lives with an emotionally shut-down Vietnam Vet/heroin addict who may or may not be her father is certainly raw, compelling fictional stuff. Unfortunately, Joanna Rose's overly long debut is little more than an outpouring of "he said she said" anecdote. It suffers from an utter lack of distance, commentary or reaction. Reading about the heroine's childhood in early-1970s Denver feels like watching 24 hours of surveillance video at a 7-Eleven, with the only action being a teenager boosting a copy of Hustler and a frozen burrito.

Sarajean is the narrator we follow from a "free preschool" to the pot-addled age of 16. Most of the book is spent chronicling her mundane adolescent adventures with her friend Lalena, herself the fruit of a drugged-out hippie tryst. They hang out in a thrift shop, a tea house and a bead store, and watch wide-eyed as their authority figures behave like impulsive teens. All the while they wonder about boys, tampons, how to shoplift cigarettes and pinch their parents' pot stashes. Sarajean's junkie mother disappeared long ago; much of the book's tension derives from the few clues to her fate that the girl happens upon, overheard conversations that shed light on her mother's character and whereabouts.

The metaphorical orphans of Kerouac and Kesey make for interesting subject matter, and Rose squarely captures the feelings of a child rolling with a bizarre upbringing, only realizing its strangeness when others inform her of another reality. Sadly, the narrator never deigns to comment on -- much less employ metaphors or analogies to illuminate -- her condition. The ostensibly intelligent, bookish Sarajean simmers in free-floating anger throughout; the only change we witness is her age. One desperately wants to ask her, "What the hell do you think of all this?" Sadly, Little Miss Strange is too shellshocked to reveal her secrets. We're left with a documentary-like flat slice of an interesting life instead of a multidimensional work of fiction. -- Salon

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Dropouts, drug addicts and immigrant storekeepers are Sarajean Henry's free-floating family as she grows from a young child into an adolescent in this perceptive and perfectly pitched debut novel. In Sarajean, Rose has created a narrator with an uncanny eye for the manners and mores of Denver's hippie demimonde in the 1970s. Sarajean perceives the world without judging it, and so she never questions why she's being raised by Jimmy Henry, a Vietnam vet who's now addicted to heroin, and she simply accepts that her mother "just went away" and no one knows where. She finds several surrogate mothers: Lady Jane, a former junkie who now wants to settle down with Jimmy Henry; Tina Blue, a mysterious neighbor who tells Sarajean, "I have fled the dark heart of America and I am hiding"; and her best friend, Lalena Hand, who endlessly coaches her in the mysteries of their world (admonishing her, for instance, to say "out of sight," rather than be "cool"). The novel works precisely because of the quality and depth of Sarajean's observations. Near the end of the novel, when Sarajean begins delving into the secrets of her past, her search for answers is remarkably free of melodrama. She's much more interested in learning than in complaining. Lady Jane sums up the nonchalant charm of this novel when she asks Sarajean to tell her a story. "`Everyone knows a story,' she said. `A story is just who you are at that particular moment.'" Who Sarajean is at any moment is never less than fascinating. (Mar.)
Library Journal
In the early 1970s, the war in Vietnam is grinding to a close and the counterculture is alive. In Denver, preschool-age love child Sarajean lives with Jimmy Henry, a Vietnam veteran who takes her to parties at the public park where acid-laced Kool-Aid is served to the adults. Sarajean might arrive home to find Jimmy Henry shooting up, or sound asleep, or ready to prepare dinner. People float in and out of her life, like feathers on the wind, and Sarajean begins to wonder about who she is. She discovers her mother's name but little else. In her teen years, the issue comes to a head, and Sarajean makes a painful but necessary journey of discovery. This moving and powerful story offers an oddly "normal" childhood as seen through the eyes of a child who knows nothing else.-Joanna M. Burkhardt, Univ. of Rhode Island Coll. of Continuing Education Lib., Providence
School Library Journal
YA--This coming-of-age story is set in Denver in the late `60s and `70s. Sarajean Henry tells of her life with Jimmy Henry, a Vietnam veteran and former junkie, with whom she was left as a toddler, and of her search for the mother she has never known. Sarajean recounts her everyday experiences, from 1969 through 1977, with a variety of acquaintances who become her surrogate family. Along the way she collects numerous memories and mementos. Cigarettes and marijuana become a part of her normal existence, along with funky clothes and far more freedom than that of an average preteen. Drugs and free love are part of the daily lives of most of the adults around her. Simple sentences, ample dialogue, and short paragraphs combine to reveal a likable, resilient, independent, and gifted girl as she discovers the true meaning of family and her ability to shape her own life.--Dottie Kraft, formerly at Fairfax County Public Schools, VA
Kirkus Reviews
A young girl abandoned by her mother struggles to discover her origins in Denver's early-'70s hippie scene in a compelling coming- of-age debut.

Five-year-old Sarajean Henry has a home and a father of sorts, but her life in downtown Denver in 1969 is decidedly exotic. Though she doesn't know it, the man she lives with isn't actually her father, and the woman who crashes occasionally in the purple-walled apartment downstairs is really her mother, but the hippie world she grows up in—a community of refugees from the conservative Midwest—is conspiring to keep the truth of her origins from her. As Sarajean matures and reaches adolescence, she finds herself drifting from one funky apartment to another, searching for a mother's tenderness (though unable even to identify her yearning) in a cup of herbal tea with Lady Jane, a Joni Mitchelllike space cadet in embroidered jeans and wooden clogs; a friendship (and a part-time job) with the grandmotherly owner of the local thrift shop; poetry sessions with the elusive, stoned-out Tina Blue, who confides to Sarajean that she has "fled the dark heart of America" and is hiding; and increasingly risky escapades with Lalena, Sarajean's best friend, whose sexual abuse by her Vietnam-vet, drug-pushing father epitomizes the community's casual irresponsibility toward their young. Jimmy Henry, Sarajean's own burnt-out surrogate father, is too caught up in his heroin addiction and subsequent recovery to realize that Sarajean needs to know who her mother is. He clearly needs Sarajean, though, for stability in his life, and it's his imperfect love that saves the girl when she flees across America, seeking her mother and a stable identity for herself.

An extraordinarily powerful first novel in which what is not said often seems infinitely more important than what is. Sarajean is impossible to forget.

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780684847412
  • Publisher: Touchstone
  • Publication date: 6/10/1998
  • Edition description: REPRINT
  • Pages: 384
  • Sales rank: 1,472,129
  • Product dimensions: 0.85 (w) x 5.50 (h) x 8.50 (d)

Customer Reviews

Average Rating 5
( 4 )
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Sort by: Showing all of 4 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted June 12, 2005

    Accidently Picked it up and never put it down

    I picked up this book in my older sisters room when I was like 12 I think just too look at it because it is a fairly large book. I started reading and I just could not stop. It's a great book.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 28, 2001

    This Book Was Far Out

    At first I picked up this book thinking that it was just gonna be some average coming of age story, but it wasn't. I thought it was cool cause it gave you a little background of the early 70s yet at the same time it told you a story of a little girl trying to find out who her friends were and who her parents were. I LOVED IT VERY MUCH

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 1, 2000

    Absolute Greatest book..

    I thought this book was excellent. I was shocked at some of the experiences Sarajean had, and I cried, laughed, was angered. I sort of wish I was Sarajean and am incredibly jealous of her lifestyle. It is hard to forget her, I cryed when it ended because I missed the other charecters. :) Great book!!

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  • Anonymous

    Posted October 29, 2008

    No text was provided for this review.

Sort by: Showing all of 4 Customer Reviews

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