Monday, June 29, 2015

Jesse by Glen Alan Burke

Release Date: May 1, 2014
Publisher: Koehler Books
Author Website: 

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars.

In 1960's rural Alabama, change came slowly to the town of Jess Rulam. When Jesse Savorie entered the elementary school, he stood out like a sore thumb. He was quiet, smart, big and beyond poor, but he stood out the most because he was a black boy in a white school. As the country marched toward equal rights and the children accepted the changes more readily than the adults, the clear divide between the people persisted.

Throughout his education Jesse taught life lessons to any and all who crossed his path. By using his uncanny knack for knowing what the person needed, he was able work miracles in even the hardest of hearts. Darkness and meanness lingered, festering among the townsfolk until it reached a boiling point where Jesse was concerned. Can he weather the harshest storm to work the biggest miracle possible? Will everything he worked for fall apart?

I also found this book when I searched through the offerings at NetGalley. Though historical fiction was not one of my go-to genres, I was pleasantly surprised by what I read in this book. To be honest and fair, the book started slow. It took a few chapters to settle into the world of Matt, the character who told a large portion of the story, and the town of Jess Rulam. Once I reached the third or fourth chapter, the story gained its bearing and continued a steady pace until the final chapter. To say that I wasn't expecting anything akin to the ending would be an understatement.

As mentioned above, the author used first person point-of-view for a large portion of the novel to tell the story through the eyes of Matt, a young, white boy who attended the local school system alongside Jesse, the odd boy who changed people and things wherever he went. There were also a number of chapters which featured third person point-of-view in order to give more history on the events, the town or particular characters. Though the switching between the two distracted me from the story a time or two, I wasn't put off by going back and forth. More than halfway through the novel, it didn't distract me at all.

The characters began showing their depth around the same time that the pace increased. Because this novel was set in Alabama during the 1960's and 1970's, the racial divide was much larger than today. Yes, discrimination and violence against both sides were present in the novel, but used to move the story along and provide context about the town, the people's deep-rooted beliefs and how change scared everyone. True to form the children adapted to change much faster and handled the impacts better than the adults of the town. More profound events were necessary to get them to understand how divisive the hatred or disdain was to the town at large. By the end of the novel, each of the characters had experienced a change that left them much more complex than the beginning of the book.

Overall, I was surprised when I recognized the fact that the book was a retelling of a much older story. Once that realization sunk in, I had to know the ending of the book and whether it came close to the original or not. Different emotions came to the surface at different times. Anger when I read how some of the characters were treated. Sadness when I realized that most of the treatment was based on real experiences. Joy when I saw that people began realizing they needed to change. For me, this novel hit the right buttons for an thought-provoking, enjoyable read. For those who enjoy well-written, updated versions of well-known stories or a book which makes you think, then I whole-heartedly recommend this book.

Jesse by Glen Alan Burke is available at many online retailers in either paperback or Kindle (digital) formats. The link provided below will take you to the book's page at Amazon.
Jesse by Glen Alan Burke

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