I finally got ahold of this book which won a Printz Honor a few years ago. It is the third in a trilogy, but I didn’t feel any need to read the first two books. Taylor-Jane Simon has Asperger’s Syndrome. She’s nineteen and wants to become independent. The book takes place in the summer before she starts college when she is in France as personal assistant to a young man, Martin, with cerebral palsy. His family consists of him, his brother Luke and their father who may soon become her step father. Her mother has come on this trip and Taylor worries that if they marry, her job will not fit on a resume as Martin will have become her brother.
During the summer Taylor makes great steps to acquire more independence, while telling the story of her confused first years in school, her anger with her mother who she feels wants to control her. An elderly woman with dementia becomes a kind of mentor to her and helps her to work out what she needs to say to her mother.
I loved the setting of this in the south of France which I think the author really caught. Taylor seemed real as she struggled to become independent and control her rages. She has a real personality that comes through in her thoughts on Jean-Paul Sartre,Stanley from Harold Pinter’s play The Birthday Party – she definitely doesn’t want to be like Stanley – and her gerbils Harold Pinter and Samuel Beckett.
“I think of Jean-Paul Sartre’s little book. Who am I? Am I someone, anyone, or no one? Last fall, when I read Samuel beckett’s play, Waiting for Godot, I thought about spending your life waiting. Whit if I was withing for no one, and the no one was me?” p. 128
“Photo albums are kind of like rearview mirrors for family and friends. They let people look behind you at things that have already happened.” p. 128
“My mother’s a prostitute. Not the filthy, street walking kind. She’s actually quite pretty, fairly well spoken, and has lovely clothes. But she sleeps with men for money or gifts, and according to the dictionary, that makes her a prostitute. She started working in 1940 when I was seven, the year we moved from Detroit to New Orleans.” When they arrive at Willie’s, the brothel where her mother is returning to work, Willie tells her she doesn’t like kids. Josie responds that she doesn’t much like them either. When asked what she does like, she responds, “We’ll I go to school, I read, I cook, I clean and I make martinis for Mother.” So begins her life living at Willies, but when she’s twelve she moves out to live in a bookstore in the French Quarter, Marlowe’s Bookstore, where she has a tiny room upstairs. Charlie Marwell, the owner who is also a writer, let her stay there and then begin working for him.When the story begins she’s finished high school, is working in the bookstore, cleaning over at Willie’s in the morning., but not sure of what she wants to do, though she’s real smart and the idea of college is alluring. Also, Charlie is very sick, so she runs the store with his young son Patrick.
It takes meeting a new customer at the bookstore, Charlotte, an uptown girl who goes to Smith College to get Josie’s mind focused on leaving New Orleans for Massachusetts and Smith, but first comes an encounter with another customer who buys David Copperfield and a book of poetry by Yeats. This customer who entrances Josie is from Tennessee, in town for the Sugar Bowl. She wishes he were her father. The next day he is found dead in a bar, robbed of his watch and she will be questioned. Josie finds out more than she wants to know, but keeps it hidden. So now she has more to worry about, especially when her mother runs off with a gangster to California.
Trying to keep everything hidden puts Charlotte at risk as well as those around her, but eventually she learns who to trust and who to clear of.