Looking for JJ (by Anne Cassidy)

12 04 2011

In an age where everything has already happened at least once before and nothing can shock us anymore, it’s hard to find just that one truly horribly shocking event. In 1993 that event was undoubtedly the murder of the 2-year-old Jamie Bulger, by the then 10-year-olds Jon Venables and Robert Thompson.

Though not overtly based on this event, Anne Cassidy’s Looking for JJ may have been inspired by it, and at least makes us remember this particular incident. Alice Tully has a secret. Now 17, she lives under a secret identity. 6 years ago she murdered her best friend. What were the circumstances that made a child kill another child? Part murder mystery, part character study, Looking for JJ succeeds in both telling a suspenseful tale and investigating the circumstances that let it all happen.  But even more than trying to find an answer to the why (we get the obligatory tale of child neglect, of course), Anne Cassidy investigates what happens to a young offender once they are set free. Is there such a thing as redemption?  Can the past truly be forgotten? What happens when the world finds out who you really are? Will you be able to build a new life? Is reconciliation possible?

I can see why this novel would be shortlisted for awards like the Carnegie Medal and what have you… Objectively, I have to admit this is a successful and emotionally gripping book for (younger) teens, but not a completely engrossing book for an older cat like me. It’s an OK book, but honesty does make me say that the sympathy guilt trip Anne Cassidy has set up for the reader concerning Jennifer/Alice didn’t really work for me.

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