Living with Jackie Chan (by Jo Knowles)

25 02 2014

livingwithjackiechanJo Knowles is a favorite author amongst my students. In a survey I did at the end of last year, once again she was in the top 3 of authors whose books circulate the most in my school library. In fact, she’s been in that top 3 for the past 4 years. It’s easy to see why her books have such great appeal. They’re all fairly short (yes, that is something to take into consideration when you’re a 15-year-old and you *have* to read a book in English), they’re all about very relatable teen ‘issues’, and the language use is very accessible for my ESL-students. Of all her books, Jumping Off Swings is by far the book that is checked out the most (although See you at Harry’s usually gets the better response). Published 4 years later,  Living with Jackie Chan is a companion book to Jumping off Swings and is told from Josh’s point of view after what happened at the end of Jumping Off Swings.

One of my main issues with Jumping off swings was that I felt the characters were not developed enough and as a result they came off as stereotypes. In those 4 years, Knowles has definitely grown a lot as a writer. With each book, I felt that she’s improved in fleshing out her characters, while at the same time not compromising in the ‘plot’ department. See you at Harry’s, especially left a big impression, because she managed to not only draw a very believable main character, but a very believable ‘family’ unit. Every family member was believable in his/her actions and grief about what happened (no spoilers…).

In Living With Jackie Chan, Jo Knowles continues this development. She has succeeded in showing a side of Josh that was almost completely absent in Jumping off Swings, because the focus was most on Ellie (despite the 4 different points of view) and not on him. It’s definitely a bonus that Knowles doesn’t experiment with different perspectives here, because this is really Josh’s book. Of course Josh has interactions with other people, like his Uncle Larry and Stella, the girl who lives in the same building and who does karate together with him, but since this is Josh’s story, it was not necessary to have any other perspectives, so props to Knowles here for being a smart writer. Also, the different (complex) topics that Knowles manages to include in her books in an almost effortless way – like teen pregnancy, single-sex parenting, problematic (teen and adult) relationships, alcoholism – vouches for her insight into the complex lives of a lot of teenagers today.

For people who haven’t read Jumping Off Swings, Living with Jackie Chan will be a little bit more challenging, because Knowles doesn’t really mention at the beginning of the book why Josh has moved in with his uncle Larry in his senior year, and is in a completely different town, and goes to a completely new school. However, if you’re willing to put in a bit of effort, it could also be read separate from Jumping Off Swings, I think.

In any case, I think Living with Jackie Chan will be another hit with my students, so I think that Knowles will firmly keep her place in the top 3 of authors whose books circulate the most in my school library.



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