Subtitle: a Black Bear, Pennsylvania story
Author: Sally Wiener Grotta
Published: May 6, 2013
Publisher: Pixel Hall Press
Hardcover: 314 pages
Jo Joe is a mystery of the heart about Judith Ormond, a young mixed race Jewish woman. Seventeen years earlier, violence and hatred had driven her away from the small Pocono Mountains village where she was raised by her white Christian grandparents. Now, with the death of her beloved grandmother, she must reluctantly break her vow to never return to the town she learned to hate. During the one week visit, she’s forced to deal with the boy who cruelly broke her heart and is menaced by an old enemy who threatens new brutalities. But with her traumatic discovery of a long-buried secret, Judith finds more questions than answers about the bigotry that scarred her childhood.
On the surface, Jo Joe seems to be a simple story about a woman returning to her hometown after the death of her grandmother. But it becomes clear, very early on in the novel, that in fact this book is so much more complex, fascinating and....complicated than you could have ever imagined.
Jo Joe focuses on our heroine, Judith, who returns to her hometown of Black Bear after her grandmother dies (unexpectedly, to her, although practically everyone else saw it coming). Gramma's death forces Judith to go back to a place she abandoned years ago -- to memories that haunt her, people that treat her differently because of the color of her skin, and a love she tried to forget long ago.
What I loved about Sally Wiener Grotta's novel is that it instantly draws you into the town of Black Bear. Grotta has an amazing writing style and her descriptions of the people and their homes have this wonderful ability to transport you to this small-town lifestyle. Everyone knows one another; everyone's in each others business (of course) and in the end, you feel like you could've lived in Black Bear your entire life. It's also, as you'll discover, a town where most of the people are trying to be good -- but good intentions only go so far; and where some are just plain evil.
What I also loved about this novel is that it was not predictable. Judith did not run right back to the her lost love; the townsfolk didn't change their attitudes too much since Judith left as a young girl; the evil characters were believable and really freaking scary (not something I expected to find in this novel; and the revelations Judith will have about her grandmother are completely real and incredibly emotional.
You should definitely pick this book up and give it a chance. Think of it as your chance to try out a new town -- a way to travel to Black Bear, Pennsylvania. Where the town is not a perfect cast of characters (by any means!), but they're real. Between the issues of race, long lost memories, family and "home" -- this is not one to be missed.
4 1/2 out of 5 stars - LET ME KNOW WHAT YOU THINK!!!