In this coming-of-age story set on Long Island, the tropical butterflies Jean Louise (JL) raises become a central metaphor for the changes she undergoes during her 10th-grade year. JL wistfully remembers the simple, happy days of her childhood, when she visited the planetarium with her “weirdo hippy parents” and trusted her best friend, Aubrey, with secrets. Now things are different. JL’s father has been gone for 18 months on an extended business trip to California, and her mother’s fragile mental state has steadily declined, signified by the letters she writes and mails to dead author Jack Kerouac, JL’s namesake. JL has also grown away from Aubrey; she disapproves of Max, an older boy who calls JL “Jailbait” and offers to take her with him when he heads out to California on his motorcycle. Juxtaposing childhood flashbacks against present-day scenes en route to a too-tidy ending, Polisner (In Sight of Stars) creates a mosaic of visceral images and moods, including emotional and physical longing, as JL navigates the uncomfortable terrain between adolescence and adulthood. Ages 14–up. Agent: Jim McCarthy, Dystel, Goderich & Bourret. (Apr.)
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"Polisner’s writing is effortless and authentic, and JL is a character that readers will unquestionably relate to. Mental illness, absentee parents, bonds between friends, and the daunting anticipation of first-time sex are woven into JL’s story with unguarded, unvarnished candor. Perfect for readers who love coming-of-age stories and who understand the value of female community." - BOOKLIST
"Polisner captures the voice of teen angst perfectly: the constant questioning, the pain of moving on, the joy of feeling your body respond to its growth, the wish for independence, and the need for belonging. Reading this narrative, as it moves from branch to branch of memories, feels like floating . . . Polisner captures the overwhelming emotions of that age, creating a situational reality in which each character fits perfectly and has a place in the story." - SCHOOL LIBRARY JOURNAL
"Polisner (In Sight of Stars) creates a mosaic of visceral images and moods, including emotional and physical longing, as JL navigates the uncomfortable terrain between adolescence and adulthood." - PUBLISHERS WEEKLY
"The major strengths of the book are deft deployment of the emerging butterfly theme, first-person narration by a strong and insightful character, and honest descriptions of JL's sexual relationship with Max." - KIRKUS
"A delightful novel about a teenager who finds comfort in raising butterflies when her relationship with her best friend begins to fray. A perfect escapist read!" - MEDIUM
"Anything written by Gae Polisner is a true treat. She commands her craft in a way very few do, and I consider her to be the best voice in the YA Contemporary space. JACK KEROUAC IS DEAD TO ME is my favorite book of Polisner’s to date, and besides that, the title is absolutely brilliant. To understand the meaning, you’ll have to read the book, which I highly recommend." - YA Books Central
"Jack Kerouac is Dead to Me is an absolutely real, raw and emotional read, and it's a book that touched my heart with every page." - Katie McGarry, critically acclaimed author of Only a Breath Apart
"Gae Polisner has done it again. I absolutely loved this beautiful, heart-wrenching story about friendship, family, and first love, and what happens when they all fall apart. Jack Kerouac is Dead to Me is a truly special book." - Lauren Spieller, author of Your Destination Is on the Left
Gr 9 Up—JL is almost 16 when the story begins weaving its way, like a butterfly in flight, through memories and moments of a child's life. She is trying to make sense of her life, her parents, her best friend Aubrey, and especially herself. There's Nana with her head in the sand, a dad who has become more absent, a mom who is present but not really there, and boys. There are a couple of boys—the one who's out of reach (Aubrey's brother) and the one who is so bad, no one believes JL could possibly be interested in him. Polisner captures the voice of teen angst perfectly: the constant questioning, the pain of moving on, the joy of feeling your body respond to its growth, the wish for independence, and the need for belonging. Reading this narrative, as it moves from branch to branch of memories, feels like floating, which fits with the ups and downs of middle school memories. As JL spends her 16th year growing up and asking questions, she deals with her everyday life as she realizes she has some tough decisions to make. She needs to decide whether Aubrey is still a friend, how much she can forgive her family, and what she should do next—the right thing or the thing she wants. Polisner captures the overwhelming emotions of that age, creating a situational reality in which each character fits perfectly and has a place in the story. VERDICT Reminiscent of Han Nolan's Born Blue or Ellen Wittlinger's The Long Night of Leo and Bree, this title is recommended for teen libraries, and eighth graders will be able to relate to it.—Cathleen Ash, Manor High School Library, TX
Will JL jump on the back of her boyfriend's motorcycle and light out for California to see her dad—or stay on Long Island with her mother?
Jean Louise, or "JL"—named for author Jack (Jean-Louis) Kerouac—has grown up with both her mother and grandmother fixated on the fact that in 1961, her then-teenage grandmother was kissed by Kerouac in a restaurant in their hometown of Northport, Long Island. JL is baffled by their fascination (and likely so will most teen readers today be). However, as a high school sophomore, JL has bigger worries. Her father has moved to California for work, and it is unclear when he will return. Her mother is sinking into a dissociative state, writing letters to the dead author. Her former best friend, Aubrey, has found new friends. JL finds solace in her relationship with her 19-year-old boyfriend, Max (who is a stereotype of the bad boy with a heart of gold), and in raising tropical butterflies from a kit her grandmother bought for her. The major strengths of the book are deft deployment of the emerging butterfly theme, first-person narration by a strong and insightful character, and honest descriptions of JL's sexual relationship with Max. Unfortunately, JL's mother's mental illness is portrayed shallowly, the Kerouac element is not very compelling, and the setting is indistinguishable from Anytown, USA. All characters seem to be white.
A serviceable exploration of teen relationships. (Fiction. 13-18)