CM . . .
. Volume XVIII Number 41. . . .June 22, 2012
Having fallen for a gorgeous jock named Josh, 17-year-old Jamie Lexington-Cross follows him to the Church of the Right and the Real, bringing her father along to the services. However, Jaime's romance led to more than just stolen kisses in the back of church closets: Jamie's father marries Mira, a Church member, and joins the congregation. After Jamie refuses to pledge herself to the Church, her father chooses his new wife over his daughter and throws her out into the streets. Reeling from her father's betrayal, Jaime struggles to keep a roof over her head while maintaining the semblance of a normal life in front of her friends. To make matters worse, the Church has branded her as an outcast, and she is prevented from seeing Josh publicly or making any contact with her father.
After spending a couple of nights sleeping in a parking lot, Jaime checks into a seedy motel where she braves her first night against the Portland urban wild. It is within this gritty place amongst the desperate and disgraced that Jaime faces the realities of her father's abandonment: she has no money, no food and no one in whom she can confide for fear that she'll be shipped off to her drug-addicted mother. Yet, despite her dire circumstances, Jaime refuses to give up on her father or let go of her dreams of getting into drama school in New York. She finds an unlikely friend in her next-door neighbour, an ex-con who teaches her the mundane realities of adulthood: how to clean and how to cook for herself. And after helping out a cute barista, she lands herself a desperately needed job. The unexpected help keeps her afloat as she tries to figure out how to save her father from a cult.
Though the plot line reads like a sensational news story, Joëlle Anthony tackles topics not often discussed in YA literature that are all too real, namely addiction and fanaticism. Despite the strong bonds Jamie and her father formed with each other whilst coping with her mother's drug addiction, Mira's arrival showed that the lure of redemption was too intoxicating for a recovering alcoholic, such as Jaime's father. Anthony's Church of the Right and the Real features all the typical traits of a cult belief system: hierarchal and dualistic, addictive and psychologically damaging. The Church's controlling influence within Jamie's and Josh's families tears them apart and forces a painful coming of age.
Amidst her troubles, Jamie still finds moments of happiness through her love of dancing and theatre as well as her friendly flirtations with an aspiring filmmaker. It is her witty repartee with Trent, rather than her make-out scenes with Josh, that conveys all the youthful anticipation and attraction of young love and recalls the proverbial butterflies in one’s stomach. However, these romantic interludes take a back seat to Jamie's developing independence. Jamie quickly takes charge of her situation, and her first-person account of her circumstances imparts valuable, pragmatic life lessons without sounding too didactic. The generosity of her ex-con neighbour demonstrates that, regardless of how bad your situation is, you’re always capable of helping someone who may be in a worse spot than you are. Jamie’s determination in surviving on her own and saving her father shows readers that she doesn’t need rescuing: it is she who rescues others.
Overall, Joëlle Anthony has written an uplifting, fast-paced story that is recommended for teens that lean towards real life stories. Teachers and librarians should note that there are a few scenes containing swear words; however, they are appropriate for the context.
Jenice Batiforra is a Branch Head Librarian at the Winnipeg Public Library in Winnipeg, MB.
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