Publication Date: May 12th, 2011
Dutton Books/Penguin Group
Jane has traveled the world with her father and twin brother, but it's not until her fractured family–still silently suffering from the loss of Jane's mother many years before–inherits a house and a history in Coney Island that she finally begins to find a home. With the help of a new community of friends, a mermaid's secrets, and a tattooed love interest with traffic-stopping good looks, the once plain Jane begins to blossom and gains the courage to explore the secrets of her mother's past.
Colorful characters, beautiful writing, and a vibrant, embattled beachfront backdrop make this the perfect summer read for anyone who has ever tried to find true love or a place to call home.
The story begins with Jane, Marcus and their father riding in a taxi to their new house, the house they inherited from Jane and Marcus' grandfather, Preemie. As they enter the dusty dirty house, they discover an old carousel horse chained with a triple length of chain to the radiator and locked with a padlock. No one can guess the reason why. Just that Preemie was known to be eccentric. Jane discovers other oddities in the house as she finds old treasures about Coney Island, it's history, the one her mom knew. It's very different and run down now. Jane's first impression is that it should be torn down and something new should be put up. That's why they are there. Her father has been down on his luck and is hoping to design a roller coaster for the boardwalk, the new one that's being designed. It's his ticket back up. Jane couldn't agree more.
But then Jane gets to know Coney Island as it is and the people that love it as it is. She gets to know the history of it from old books and memorabilia in the attic of the house that she and Marcus have inherited and she starts to remember her mother through the games she used to play with them realizing she was mimicking the games that were on Coney Island when she grew up as a girl.
I'll focus on Jane's character in my review, but there are numerous other characters in the story. She's sixteen and very confused about her identity, her place in the world, what she stands for and who she represents. She wears all gray, washed out of all color, signifying her life is neither black nor white, but somewhere in the middle. She envies the people that others gawk at, the little person Babette, who is her friend. H.T. Astaire, who when he doesn't use his prosthetic legs gets around on a skateboard. And Legs, the seven and a half foot tall non basket ball playing giant. They all know who they are and are comfortable with themselves. She looks at them from a distance and wonders, "What's it like to be you? And not me."
Throughout the book Jane is searching for her mother's secrets, friends that can give her a clue to what she was like. Conveniently, the boy she likes, The Tattoo Boy, Leo is the son of her mother's best friend. Leo and Jane have some late night escapades doing some of the things their mothers did at their age after Jane finds a set of keys in a mermaid doll in the top of her closet. But they are marked cryptically and the last one has them stumped.
Political themes run throughout the book as well with the idea of knocking down the old Coney island and building a totally new one. Jane's dad has roller coaster plans for this new place and it would be good for them, but she'd be a traitor to her friends and Coney Island to support it. The tug of war puts a wedge between her and Leo.
But all of it takes a back seat to the character of Coney Island itself. To the people that live and work there. To the people that visit. To the people that have spent their whole lives doing nothing but living the carnival life. It's incredible that there is this permanent place that is like no other place in the world. It can't compare to Disney World or Universal Studios, it's Coney Island.
The family motto is "It's only for one year," but Jane wants to put down roots this time even though it would be easier to run away. She has this recurring nightmare about being a mermaid and a seahorse coming to rescue to bring her to the surface but it's just plastic and she realizes no one is going to save her, she'll have to save herself. So she faces her friends despite her father's seeming betrayal of Coney Island. And she searches for answers to questions like "Do you think you can feel nostalgia for things you've never experienced?" and "Was there any way to measure physical pain against emotional pain?" Jane continues to search for answers but slowly finds herself, and I do mean slowly in the novel.
But that's not to say the novel is slow. I couldn't put it down! From the moment I picked up to the second I closed the cover wanting more, it was great realistic fiction. I know I put Stay at the top of my list and it remains there. But this is a very different type of realistic fiction. It's character driven and fast paced and really makes you think. I'm still thinking of some of the questions and quotes in it and how I would answer them. I'll leave you with some more gems, and remember if you don't like the cover and the name, get past all that, they really are pertinent to the story.
"Love has to exist in the present tense, flaws and all." p. 209
What's your earliest memory?
What sound makes you happy?
What was the last dream you had that you remember?
Name one thing you want to do before you die.
Why is a raven like a writing desk?
What's the best thing about being you? (all on page 212)
"She didn't have a nose, Mom." She stops at the corner and looks at
me, sort of disappointed, and says, "Did you happen to notice that
her eyes were the most remarkable green?" (p328)
"....She thought there were worse things in life than being funny-looking
and maybe worse things in life than not having a nose or not having
limbs at all. Like not being loved. Not being able to feel. Not having
anything to lose or give away." ( p. 329)
Those are just some of the memorable parts that stuck with me. I'm telling you this one is a diamond in the rough. It's easy to read and Jane is a character that is so likable, I saw bits and pieces of myself in her, that lack of confidence, the need for acceptance and a little bit of defiance. The love story takes a back seat in this, though it's there, it's not the central theme. The story is told in third person, but I really felt like it was first person as I read. Sometimes though I would have like to gotten into Leo's head and known what he really thought. Oh, and their first period teacher was so hip! That is the only word you can use to describe him. So get your Nathan's, an ice cold coke or beer and sit down for an unforgettable read!
Heather in Sandwich