June 8th, 2011

reading ladders

A gem

When I think of a pearl, so many images and ideas come to mind. There is, of course, the bit of grit that gets coat after coat until the sand in the oyster becomes a pearl of great price. There is the Steinbeck novel. There is Janis Joplin affectionately known as Pearl. Now, though, when I think of Pearl, the first thing that will come to mind is Bean (aka Pearl), the central charatcer in LJ's Jo Knowles' new YA novel PEARL (Holt, July 2011).

Pearl is her given name, but she prefers Bean, the name her grandfather gave her instead. Bean lives with her mother and grandfathers. While she adores her grandfather, her relationship with her mother is a bit, contentious. Ditto the relationship between Mom and Bean's grandfather. And so Bean escapes to Henry's house. There she sits and watches the soaps with Henry and his mother, Sally. When Bean's grandfather dies suddenly, her entire world is turned upside down. Everything that she believes is challenged. Who will treasure her now? <252>

Jo Knowles has crafted an incredible cast of characters here: Bean, Henry, Sally, Mom, and the others are all quite human. That means that there is fragility and strength, laughter and tears, love and hate, trust and suspicion that fuels how all of these people interact. The story takes some surprising turns (and for this jaded reader, that is saying something indeed) though it never strays far from its heart--Bean (and Henry, too). Quiet, powerful, and absorbing: this is a novel that will, like that tiny piece of grit, gnaw on the reader, driving her forward to find the pearl that awaits.