Tuesday, October 23, 2012

"A Grown-Up Kind of Pretty"

Joshilyn Jackson, a native of the Deep South, has worked as an actor and an award-winning teacher, and is now a writer and a mother of two. She is the author of gods in Alabama; Between, Georgia; The Girl Who Stopped Swimming; and Backseat Saints.

She applied the Page 69 Test to her latest novel, A Grown-Up Kind of Pretty, and reported the following:
A Grown Up Kind of Pretty is set on the Mississippi Gulf Coast, a loamy, fecund, mossy, verdant landscape. It's an impossible place to bury secrets, because anything shoved under that soil is going to put down roots and then sprout up into something huge and vine-y and fast-growing.

The fertility of the region also affected how I imagined the family in the book;Virginia Slocumb is 45, her daughter Liza is 30, and Liza's daughter Mosey is 15. If you do the math, after the equal sign is the idea that Ginny and Liza's main goal in life is to get Mosey to sixteen unpregnant.

Mosey is not that girl. She's a late bloomer who is built like a Twizzler; she's never even been kissed. And yet she's been so helicopter-parented on the issue of her sexuality that she pees on Dollar Store pregnancy tests just to see that second window stay blank and white and clean, a testament that she is not her mother.

Page 69 comes right at the end of Chapter One, and I think it's my favorite page 69 test yet, because it is about the literal unearthing of the book's first buried secret. Earlier in the chapter, Ginny takes out a willow tree, and human remains are found in the Slocumb backyard. This is a bit of a murder mystery and a love story, but under that, it's a story interested in exploring identity: What makes us, us. Our genes? Our histories? How much can we change our essential natures with our choices, our ideals, our belief systems? On Page 69, Mosey and her best friend, Roger, are texting, and they realize the bones under the willow belong to Liza's biological child. Mosey isn't a Slocumb at all. This is her reaction. From page 69:
I felt clear and light, and I felt little bubbles forming all over inside of me, just under my skin. Like when you pour a Sprite and forget about it and all the carbonation sticks to the inside of the glass.

I lifted the phone and read five words. Yes. You could be anybody.

I nodded like Roger was there to see me, and I felt a couple of the little bubbles launch off the sides of me and rise.

There was another Mosey Slocumb. If she had lived, no doubt she would be scared to move because every step took her closer to what everyone already knew she would become. Mosey Slocumb would have to be perfect every second, or else she’d slip and land on her back only to stand up pregnant, or she’d gobble drugs and worship trees like a freak, or she’d end up a bank teller in ugly uniforms so no one noticed she was still cute and she’d live for her kid and her kid’s kids and probably their kids, and she’d never so much as have a date. But I wasn’t that girl.

I was something stolen from someplace so foreign it sounded made up: Miss No One from Nevada. Anonymous from Arizona. My phone buzzed again, but I ignored it. Outside I held my body still, and the lady who had raised me stirred my cocoa, and the big world turned. But inside, the bubbles went running up through me, more and more, until I was fairly popping with them.

I wasn’t me. I wasn’t Mosey Slocumb. It was like weights falling off. I could be anyone, and that meant I might do anything. Any damn thing I felt like. Anything at all.
Learn more about the book and author at Joshilyn Jackson's website and blog.

--Marshal Zeringue