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Bri Meets Books

Children's and YA literature reviews.

Category Archives: jo knowles


Teen pregnancy has always been a hot topic, but lately, it’s been present in many facets of the media, with the film Juno to the television series The Secret Life of the American Teenager. Last June, a group of seventeen teens were expecting in a Boston-area high school, the result of a combined effort of the girls to get pregnant and raise their babies together. MTV’s newest series, Sixteen and Pregnant just ended its first season, with a second on the way.

In Jo Knowles’s Jumping Off Swings, Ellie is young and only wanting love. Josh is a virgin, until he spends one night at a party with Ellie, to the approval of his friends Caleb and Kyle. Ellie once again realizes that it was just sex and that he wasn’t different, like she thought he might’ve been. Then she discovers she’s pregnant.

There’s a thread of similarity with Knowles’ other novel, Lessons from a Dead Girl, here: a loss of innocence and how it goes deeper than sometime will ever know. The title references this, when Ellie remembers the days spent swinging, when things were simpler. Told in four alternating point of views, Jumping Off Swings, Jumping Off Swings illustrates how one night can change a life forever. There are few books that tell the point of view of the father, most of the novels on the issue deal only with the mother’s perspective. That’s why I liked the inclusion of both Josh and Caleb’s voices here, especially Caleb as he yearns to be more than Josh would ever be for Ellie. The blend of voices throughout the nine months of Ellie’s pregnancy reflects the changes that were ushered in for the four, however reluctantly they were received. The last chapters sketch this so well, four teenagers on the precipice of adulthood, and dealing with the toughest decision of their young lives. confronts teen pregnancy from the discovery to the aftermath.

Jo Knowles’ greatest talent is conveying so much in few words. Here she doesn’t disappoint. The prose of Jumping Off Swings is sparse and works, with each word so telling. The result is a realistic look at teenage pregnancy, and more important, the events leading to the situation, taking a far more intimate look than a television show or movie dares to depict.

ARC provided by the author.

Title: Jumping Off Swings
Author: Jo Knowles
Date: August 11, 2009
Publisher: Candlewick
Pages: 240
Format: Hardback

Jo Knowles’ Jumping off Swings arrives in stores August 11, but you can win a free signed! copy by entering Jo’s new contest. Not only will you receive Jumping Off Swings, but a copy of Jo’s first book, Lessons from a Dear Girl (highly recommended!) which arrives in paperback the same day.

You can help her celebrate the book release by sending a photo of you jumping off a swing, or even just swinging on a swing, for her slide show.

Check out her Livejournal for more details, and to see the slide show, as well as ways you can increase your chance of winning.

Visit the author at joknowles.com!

Jo Knowles’ Lessons from a Dead Girl is heartbreaking, terrifying, and compelling all at once. The story of the intense friendship between Leah Greene and her off-and-on best friend, Laine McCarthy, Lessons from a Dead Girl opens with the death of Leah Greene. What follows grips the reader to the end.

Charismatic, beautiful, popular, and rich, Leah has it all, according to Laine. She’s taken aback when Leah declares them best friends for life, and soon their friendship takes a dark turn. Troubled Leah begins sexually abusing Laine, and manipulating her, for reasons that become sadly clear too late. Laine learns Leah’s life is consumed with secrets and hidden demons that soon send Leah spiraling beyond Laine’s grasp.

An incredible debut novel, Jo Knowles’ prose captures each visceral emotion between Leah and Laine, and as Laine watches Leah self-destruct, so do we, with each turn. Lessons from a Dead Girl‘s depth is almost at times, too much, and Knowles handles this well, for each dark incident is juxtaposed with lighter times for Laine. This allows the reader to emotionally connect with the book, both with Leah and Laine, so our emotions are not adhered to one character, but rather the situation and what caused Leah’s secrets, and what lessons she bestows onto Laine, in the aftermath.

I would recommend this book for any individual working with troubled youth, as a way of illustrating the importance of sharing secrets that may harm.

Lessons from a Dead Girl by Jo Knowles is available in hardback now from Candlewick Press.

Copy for review graciously provided by the publisher.