Friday, February 22, 2008

FAB - Joshilyn Jackson is PRICELESS!

First of all - isn't she just PRETTY? I mean, she's beautiful, right? She is. And the cool thing? She's just as pretty on the inside. Well, I guess the blood and guts might give you pause. But her spirit? Her soul? Very, very pretty. You'll get to see that over the next few days, as I share some things about her books, and you read the interview that she granted. Also, Joss has agreed to answer questions. So if you have a question for her, please leave it in the comments section of ANY post that has FAB in the title this week, and she'll be along to answer it. Just remember that she's on BOOK TOUR for her newest release, THE GIRL WHO STOPPED SWIMMING, and the replies to your questions and comments may take a day or two. But she will answer. :)

Today though, I'd like to talk about Ms. Jackson's debut novel, gods in Alabama. It just happens to be one of my favorite books in the entire world. And evidently, I'm not the only one that feels that way.

You see, gods In Alabama was one of the initial 100 books on this list. Then people voted, and gods actually made it into the Top Ten. It has the chance to be "THE" book to talk about in 2008. You can help it achieve that goal by voting for it. But why vote?

(from the author's website)

When Arlene Fleet headed off to college in Chicago, she made three promises to God: She would never again lie, she would stop fornicating with every boy who crossed her path, and she'd never, ever go back to her tiny hometown of Possett, Alabama (the "fourth rack of Hell"). All God had to do in exchange was to make sure the body of high school quarterback Jim Beverly was never found.

Ten years later, Arlene has kept her promises, but an old school-mate has recently turned up asking questions. And now Arlene's African American beau has given her a tough ultimatum: introduce him to her family, or he's gone. As she prepares to confront guilt, discrimination, and a decade of deception, Arlene is about to discover just how far she will go to find redemption - and love.

Here's what I had to say about it after I read it the very first time...

To anyone that has ever lived in the South, especially in the Deep South, or in any small town, really, the first paragraph of the book swallows you up whole. You know, or remember, those gods that are mentioned, or you have your own slightly different list of gods from your own town. Maybe it's a high school hockey goalie instead of a quarterback. Maybe it's fast cars instead of pickup trucks. But really, you know the gods of which she speaks. You revered them. You worshipped at their shrines, just like I did. They still have a hold on you, even though Jesus may or may not have a bigger hold now. In your heart of hearts, you know there are gods.

Arlene/Lena knows this as well. "There are gods in Alabama..." This is her mantra. She has a secret, she's made a deal with the big "g" GOD, yet she still practices this refrain in her head for the better part of ten years. When a person from her past shows up in her very Yankee new life asking questions about something Arlene has tried unsuccessfully to forget, the power of those gods is unleashed all over her poor, guilty, Southern soul. She hightails it back home to Alabama, thinking her journey will be anything but sweet.

Those gods have some surprises up their sleeves though. See, Arlene did a Bad Thing when she was younger. That Bad Thing prompted her to make that deal with God. She kept up her end of the deal, but I think she was always scared that He might not keep up His end. When her past shows up on her doorstep, she's pretty sure that He has called off the Deal, and she must now face up to that Bad Thing.

When Arlene gets to Alabama with her boyfriend/pretend husband Burr by her side, she has to start facing her past. That past is rolled up in a family that includes a crazy momma, a perfect cousin, a sweet uncle, and the steeliest aunt anyone familiar with steely Southern aunts has ever seen. I've known my share of steely Southern aunts. I have two of my own. But really, Arlene's Aunt Florence has them beat hands down. Her past also includes her unapologetically racist family, though they are really just mentioned, not heard from. And it includes the kudzu. We can't forget the kudzu, ok?

I fell in love with Arlene. I liked Lena, her Yankee all-grown-up self, too, but really, I loved Arlene. I could feel her shift from Lena, self-assured Deal-keeper, to Arlene, guilty little Bad Thing doer, as soon as she waved goodbye to Tennessee and hello to Alabama. Arlene has a quiet strength, a vulnerability, and a crazy streak, that would seem fake in any other character. It works for her. I felt her pain, her rage, her joy, her guilt, her passion, her jealousy, her indignation, her love. I became her for the day. It wasn't hard to do, Joshilyn made it virtually painless to slip into her skin.

I loved the alternating timelines of the chapters in this book. It starts in present day, then it eases you back in time 17 years. During those flashback chapters that aren't really written like flashbacks, you get to know Arlene as she was at 15. You get to live, every other chapter, inside her head, seeing everything that led up to the Bad Thing. You already know what the Bad Thing is. You find out at the very beginning of the second chapter, even though its pretty well spelled out in the first. It's not a secret anymore, because Joshilyn puts it right out there at the beginning. It's almost as if Joshilyn is saying,"This is my story, and she is my girl. She did this Bad Thing, I'm telling you that right now. But you may not judge her just yet. She's lived with the guilt for a good many years, and you will hear her out, every last word of her story, before I allow you to sit in your stifling glass house and pass judgement on her."

And that's exactly what I did. I sat there, transfixed, as the drama played out around me. I breathed in that fertile Alabama soil, I slurped that sweet tea (really, is there any other kind?), and I listened to all of the things that Aunt Flo didn't say, until I'd heard every last word.

When it was over, when it was just me staring at that very last page, I sat very still and could think of only one thing: There are gods in Alabama. And they bestowed a gift on Joshilyn Jackson. And I will praise them forevermore.

If you
really need me to say it, I will say it for you now. GET. OUT. OF. YOUR. CHAIR. AND. GET. YOUR. BUTT. TO. YOUR NEAREST. BOOKSTORE. AND. GET. THIS. BOOK.

The gods will smile down upon you when you do.

And now, after a year and a half, I still feel the same way. If you haven't read it yet, do so. Then be sure to go vote!

Don't forget to enter the contest(s)!! Just put the TGWSS .jpg and info on your site and linkback for one contest, or tell me your Famous Person Stalker Story for the other. Great prizes will be given out for both contests.

Keep Turning Those Pages!!


McB said...

It really is a great book, Dee's not just saying that because she heroine-worships Ms. Jackson. The Bad Thing? Yep, you get that right in the beginning and yet you have to keep reading because you have find out why and how. You start out sympathizing with Arlene about her family and you end up falling in love with them.

Chloe said...

Gail (but you can call me G) said...

Here's my link. Pick me, choose me, love me. . .

kristen said...

here is my post:

and i'm not sure about the story...i have a few...i went all the way to spain and met Martin Sheen. it was outstandingly cool. does it still count that i didn't go there specifically to meet him but rather, went to spain to go to school and saw him there? shook his hand? took a picture with him?

hmm. okay. so, i went to book passage and waited a few hours to get my Couplehood and Babyhood books signed by Paul Reiser. I only had to take the bus from San Francisco to Corte Madera - so not that far.

but i AM desperately hoping to drive 200 miles from Sparks to Corte Madera on March 13th to see Joshilyn and have her sign TGWSS and Between, Georgia.

(doh! posted this in the wrong day! trying again)

dee said...

You're all entered in the contest, don't worry. Basically, as long as you tell me that you want to enter, and add your link here on the site someplace, I'll get oyu entered.

Thanks so much for helping get the word out about this FABulous book!

tammy said...

I haven't read any of Joshilyn's books yet, but your reviews have inspired me to update my blog for this contest! So, here's my link:

Even if I don't win, I'm definitely going to pick up gods in alabama ASAP...sounds like my kind of book.

Ray said...

My two cents (four, actually, since Joss isn't the only Famous Author Person having a bday today:)

(which is not my blogger blog, nor even the non-blogger blog linked on my blogger blog, but.... oh, never mind. Come back when you've said that three times fast;)