Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Jerk, California by Jonathan Friesen

Genre: YA

Age Level: 8th grade & up

# of Pages: Paperback 352 pages

Publisher: Speak (September 4, 2008)

Other Info:

Author Jonathan Friesen, a fellow teacher, used his experience with Tourette’s Syndrome to write this amazing novel.

Jerk, California is a novel about high school senior Sam Carrier. Sam has been an outcast his whole life with no help from his cruel stepfather and passive mother. Sam suffers from Tourettes Syndrome yet never mutters the word to others, allowing them to continue to go misguided about his sudden outburst and oddities that have plagued him for many years. His only release from this prison is the constant movement of his legs and body while running. His father died when he was young and his stepfather is the only male influence he has. He fills Sam’s head with lies and creates an environment that traps Sam in more ways than his disease ever could. When Sam meets Naomi things begin to change. It is when he gets to know George the Coot, however, when his life really begins to change. George has always been a mystery to everyone in town but when he shows up in Sam’s life and continuously calls Sam by the name his father gave him (Jack), Sam begins to realize that there is a lot about his father that he has no clue about.

After his graduation, Sam begins to find out everything he never knew about his life through George. He finds a new friend, a mentor, a new place to live and a new identity through George. As he learns more and more about his life through George and George’s odd ways of getting his points across, Sam realizes that he has to separate the lies that he has been told since he was a child from the truth that is buried deep inside him. He and Naomi set out on a trip that George has sent them on with a mysterious map that takes them across the nation and is the route that Sam uses to find out who he is. They follow the trail of windmills, small towns, and unforgettable characters that eventually lead them to the town of Jerk, California where Sam finds his long, lost family member whom he didn’t know existed.

I can’t begin to describe the sense of gratitude I have when it comes to this book. That may be a strange reaction to some, but this book brought to light so many things for me. The book being written by a person who suffers from TS about someone who suffers with the disease makes it very real. Freisen has lived it and you can tell that in his writing of Sam/Jack. The dialogue that occurs is unlike other novels in that there is a great amount of inner dialogue and it can be confusing at times. Sam has certain ticks that come along with the TS and the dialogue deals with what he is thinking, telling himself, and saying to others but is easily understood within the first chapter. The characters are all so very well written. They were relatable, real, honest and had me believing in them throughout the novel. The plot was also beautifully written and had twists, turns, and unexpected things that kept my interest throughout the novel. I literally couldn’t put it down!! Sam/Jack is a remarkable character that shows what it is like to live in an inner barricade that so many people have no clue about and how to overcome those walls surrounding him.

I truly believe that this book should be required reading for high school students because it does open up a door for discussion and realization. At the back of the book is a reading guide and one of the questions asked to Freisen was:

“Are there any common misconceptions about Tourette’s syndrome that you wish to correct?”

His answer…

“Yes. Many people’s concept of Tourette’s syndrome includes people blurting out curse words. Stressing that dramatic aspect makes good TV ratings and humorous movie clips. For a tiny fraction of those with TS, this does occur. But the majority do not swear involuntarily. The other thing I’d like to mention is that I’ve never met a person with TS who is not profoundly creative or gifted in some way. We’re good people to have around!”

I love his answer. We do have the misconception that people with TS randomly curse and we need to overcome that stereotype! I am so glad this book caught my attention on the shelves of Books A Million!! Go read it… NOW!!

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