Jeanne: A Journey From Abandonment And Abuse To Forgiveness And Truth, by Sylvia Hornback
[Note: This book was provided free of charge by Adams PR Group. All thoughts and opinions are my own.]
There are many different kinds of fiction that one finds. Some fiction is clearly genre fiction, working within or subverting various conventions. Some fiction is literary fiction, with a high degree of intellectual value on top of its plot and allusions. This book is, properly speaking, neither of those things. It is a sort of fiction that I would consider as quotidian fiction, a fictionalized memoir of an abused girl that lingers long on the annals of poor and dysfunctional families, in this case during the Great Depression and World War II. For those of us familiar with the writing or the experience of dysfunctional families, this novel provides nothing that is particularly unfamiliar. There are dark family secrets, there is physical and verbal abuse, there are people who struggle to overcome generational patterns of failure, there are nasty and catty people who look down on the protagonist because of their poverty and experience of dysfunction. And so on it goes. All of this makes this book relatable for a certain audience but it does not make it an enjoyable read. Indeed, this sort of novel revels in being as unenjoyable as possible, or else it would aspire to be a literature about hopes and dreams rather than about how to deal with the soul-sucking reality of abandonment and abuse.
This book is about 300 pages long and it covers several years in the life of the titular young heroine Jeanne. She and her brother Eli, along with her handicapped brother Robby, are abandoned first by their father and then by their mother and are unable to make a go of it and so they move in with their grandparents. Life as a tenant farmer is tough and eventually the grandfather gets injured and the family has to move back to town in considerable poverty. Jeanne tries to uncover family secrets, dealing with her abusive and occasionally returning mother and her distant and rather dilatory correspondent of a father, who rather conveniently dies overseas in the Pacific front. Jeanne’s friendship with Daniel leads her to investigate the story of her lost brother who was given up for adoption (spoiler alert, she finds him at the end), and the book ends with Jeanne as a young adult, grown up and struggling to come to terms with her family past as well as the potential of a good future that results from her work ethic, skills at reporting and investigating, and her educational attainments.
Beyond the subject matter of the book, though, there are some aspects of this book that are particularly uncomfortable and that strain the credulity of the reader. It seems immensely unlikely that a young woman would be smart enough to be a clerk as well as a reporter during her teenage years and be valedictorian of her high school class and not know when her eighteenth birthday was and be counting the days to it nearly continually. That is one of the unbelievable aspects of this book’s plot, which is all the more striking when one considers just how much this novel aches and yearns to be realistic through its numbing detail of small town and rural life among poor but proud Texans. And the novel has at least one massively cringeworthy aspect to it in the titular character’s uneasy and at least potentially incestuous romance with an injured young man who may be her brother who is jealous of her relationship with a playboy who gets another girl pregnant and then accuses her unfairly of being a whore. This novel certainly does not shy away from unpleasant subject material. Whether that is for the best is not always clear.