I heard author Ginger Rue speak at the Alabama Library Association conference last spring, where I won a copy of her first novel, Brand-New Emily, by answering literary trivia (and what an awesome way to distribute prizes was that?). Emily is about a girl who decides take the tenets of commercial marketing to heart to increase her popularity and appeal. It was a cute read, and I expected more of the same when I snagged an ARC of Rue’s latest novel at ALA Annual. It's Jump, published by Tricycle Press.
But while Emily is more middle grade, Jump is definitely YA (hooray!). Brinkley, a shallow and selfish cheerleader and star of the school play, has been ordered to therapy because of her nasty habit of tormenting other girls. As Brinkley begins “jumping” into the bodies of her classmates, -- walking a mile in their moccasins, but also bodies, clothes, and lifestyles -- she very gradually learns empathy.
I felt for Brinkley as she was a product of benign neglect. Her parents throw money at her and give her precious little attention and no real boundaries or consequences. She recounts in one therapy session how, when she and her friend were caught sneaking out in the middle of the night, her friend was grounded for a month while Brinkley’s parents were either unconcerned or uninformed. Her parents are conveniently out of the country for the bulk of the book, so her strange disappearances (and reappearances as other people) are almost unobserved. I think as many teens have always lived in the same way as Brinkley as have been under the scrutiny of “helicopter parents,” but it is interesting to see a portrayal of parents emotionally absent because of disinterest rather than their own addictions or mental health issues, which seems to be a recurring model in YA.
Brinkley is left in the care of her maid, Talullah, who she ultimately realizes may be the only one with her best interest at heart and, in Brinkley fashion, rewards her with a yellow Tory Burch bag. In fine style, Rue incorporates many wonderful details about the school’s production of Tennessee Williams’ The Glass Menagerie, with Brinkley playing Laura, despite, as she realized having a much more talented understudy. (Speaking of literary allusion, am I the only one compelled to start reciting Houseman given the author’s name, “With rue my heart is laden…”)
Brinkley takes the transition to other people’s bodies in surprising stride, and develops a new confidant in Miranda, the rather goth theater techie who was her first “jump,” and begins to have her doubts about her best friend Bette. There are some rather fantastical plots holes. The principal orders her therapy. Hmm, I wish they had that discretion. And the “jumping.” Is it some sort of mystical technique employed by her therapist Irirangi? I went with it. I have mentioned that I tend to like science fiction, which tends towards overly-elaborate explanations for strange happenings, to the willing suspension of disbelief needed to read much fantasy. But this reminded me more of Melvin Burgess’s terrific Lady: My Life as a Bitch, where one individual experiences inexplicable fantastical personal transformation in the midst of an otherwise realistic universe. And of course, this doesn't apply to dystopias, because I'm naturally rather pessimistic, so it all SEEMS all too realistic.
After the bare-bones ARC, I was glad to see Jump's final cover displays Brinkley as she might have experienced her “jump” to Miranda. The cover art, like the ample fashion and pop culture references, could entice girls who might be a little like Brinkley at the beginning to think a bit about their classmates’ lives, their choices and challenges.