A young Mickey navigates through the dense Texas humidity of the 70s and out onto the porch every single time his Granddaddy calls him, where he’s presented with the heirloom recipe for life, love, and manhood. But all the logic and insight in the world cannot prepare him to operate correctly in the presence of a wonderfully beautiful little girl who moves in just behind his rear fence. How will this magical moment divide Mickey’s life into a “before and after” and permanently change his motion and direct it down the unpaved road to which only a lucky few are granted access?
MY RATING: 5 STARS
Before I get started, let me put this into perspective. Jane Two was the most excited I’ve been about a book since Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, made it as one of only four books I’ve ever read twice in a row, and marks the closest I’ve ever come to literally throwing a book across the room. As it is, I reached a point where I had to slam it shut and storm away, swearing like a sailor while trying (and failing miserably) not to cry.
Yep. It’s a big deal.
What we have here is easily one of the best debut novels I’ve ever read. Funny, engaging, and often heart-rending, I had to start again as soon as I finished, just in case I missed something. The narrative itself stuck out right away, pure storytelling told with such honesty it feels like equal parts memory and confession. If you’ve read Mr. Flanery’s blog “Shine Until Tomorrow” (and if you haven’t, what’s wrong with you?) then you’re already familiar with his writing style. Informal, straightforward, profound and at times poetic. When the words given are so personal, you can’t help but absorb them on a personal level, and if I’ve read anything else written in such a way, then it escapes me at the moment. I’ve certainly never read anything with this level of vulnerability about it, which in turn inspired a personal vulnerability that left me open for it to hit harder.
Love forms the undercurrent of the story, particularly protagonist Mickey’s love for his Granddaddy and love for Jane, the beautiful little girl on the trampoline. Granddaddy was written of with the utmost respect and reverence, “a real man, long before they were outlawed.” His words of wisdom were one of the reasons I reread immediately, and one of the reasons anybody who can read should read this. When Granddaddy spoke, I listened. And then there’s Jane. If Granddaddy gets respect and reverence, then that leaves her adoration and longing. Jane is sacred, as necessary as breathing. That’s how Mickey sees her, and that’s how she translates on the page. Everything circles back to Jane, and it’s one of the most beautiful and painful journeys I’ve ever read. I refer you to the aforementioned slamming, storming, and swearing to describe the state of my emotions.
That’s really what sells me on Jane Two, is the emotion. Growing up is serious business, and Mickey’s growth from a boy into a man is filled with its fair share of missteps, triumphs and tragedies. Again, the honesty and vulnerability stands out. Truth hurts, truth sets you free, and both sides of the coin are exposed time and again. The joy and sorrow of life itself are visited with equal importance, regarded as a lesson to be learned and never forgotten, but rather shared and passed on, so others might learn as well.
There’s not much left for me to say, and yet there’s so much more to Jane Two than what I’ve said. Life lessons, handed down from beloved elders or learned alone the hard way. Missed chances and second chances. The magic of childhood and the tragedy of growing up. Most of all, it’s first love and true love, and how sometimes they’re one and the same.
Read this. Read it often. It’ll hurt, trust me, but it’s worth it. It’s all heart and honesty and it’s already earned a spot on the shelf next to my favorites. What more can I say than that?