Living with Jackie Chan is another excellent novel from Jo Knowles that begins by drawing readers in with an engaging premise and complex, likeable characters, and ends by presenting those characters with challenges that lead us to question whether we also have the courage to “take ownership of whatever happened and learn how to live with it.”
Josh, the main character of Living with Jackie Chan, was first introduced as one of four primary characters in the 2009 novel Jumping Off Swings. In that book, Josh fathers a child after one brief, insincere sexual encounter with Ellie. Even though Living with Jackie Chan relates to the situation in Jumping Off Swings, readers do not need to know the earlier book to appreciate this one. In Living with Jackie Chan, the focus is solely on Josh as he moves in with Larry, his karate instructor uncle, in another town to distance to himself from what happened with Ellie.
Josh leaves behind his parents, friends, dog, and school. His new life is soon filled with karate, Jackie Chan movies, his uncle, his uncle’s girlfriend, new school acquaintances, and an awkward friendship with Stella, the girl who lives upstairs. And this is what I admire most about Jo Knowles novels: The characters are appealing but quirky and trying really hard to navigate their ways through school, or romance, or addiction, or whatever individual murkiness is giving them trouble. Readers can always find something to admire in these characters, even as we see them make bad choices. As Josh and the other characters struggle with finding the strength to do what needs to be done, anyone who has ever felt even a little bit lost can empathize with them.
Teen pregnancy stories from a male perspective are rare, and welcome. (Angela Johnson’s The First Part Last and Nick Hornby’s Slam also provide teen father protagonists.) Living with Jackie Chan will appeal to both males and females as it blends action and romance, humor and emotion.
In her acknowledgements, Jo Knowles says that Living with Jackie Chan came about from readers wondering what happened to Josh after reading Jumping Off Swings. That’s not a surprise. In each of her books—Lessons from a Dead Girl, Jumping Off Swings, Pearl, See You at Harry’s, and now Living with Jackie Chan–Jo Knowles gives life to characters so compelling that we can’t help caring about them. When her books end, those lives and our care continue. What greater testament to the power of a writer’s imagination, skill, and heart?
Living with Jackie Chan will be published in September, 2013 by Candlewick Press.