Monday, February 11, 2013

Jessie Pearl Is More Than Just a Pretty Girl

Published: February 1st, 2013
The Ballad of Jessie PEarl
By: Shannon Hitchcock
ISBN-13: 9781608981410

Sometimes when the kerosene lamp casts shadows, I think I see Ma's ghost. If she were still alive, she'd say, Jessie Pearl, you keep on studying. Not everybody is cut out to be a farm wife. We'll find a way to pay for teachers' college. Leave your pa to me

And tonight, Ma would notice how my hands are trembling. I can almost hear her voice. Jessie, fourteen is too young to help birth a baby. Why don't you go and study in the kitchen? But Ma is just a memory.

It's 1922, and Jessie has big plans for her future, but that's before tuberculosis strikes. Though she has no talent for cooking, cleaning, or nursing, Jessie puts her dreams on hold to help her family. She falls in love for the first time ever, and suddenly what she wants is not so simple anymore.

     Jessie Pearl is the youngest child in her family and with all her grown up siblings married, living on farms she is determined to go places and do things.  Most of all she wants to become a teacher the way her Ma planned before she died.  But then Jessie helps her sister Carrie during the birth of her nephew and Carrie falls seriously ill.  Jessie has no choice but to drop out of school and nurse Carrie as she slowly wastes away from Tuberculosis.  All the time Jessie is worried about catching the very contagious disease and feeling guilty for her dreams of still leaving home.  When Carrie dies, she leaves a letter asking Jessie to be Ky's Ma until her husband Frank re-marries.  Now 15 year old Jessie has a baby to take care of and no hope that she can see of reaching her dreams.  Then the boy she loves moves away and another tragedy strikes Jessie's family, leaving her to wonder just what she's supposed to do with her life?  Is she meant to be just a farm wife or will she still do something greater?
     My love for this book knows no bounds.  It reminds me of every good old West book from my childhood: Caddie Woodlawn, Sarah Plain and Tall, etc. but with just enough of a hint of modernity thrown in.  The lack of curse words and familial disrespect from the teenage main character was definitely a nice change of pace (not that I don't like a good curse word every now and then still...).  Jessie Pearl was a strong, defiant and proud heroine, exactly the kind that I love; as long as the heroine still has a nice, big bleeding heart beating in her chest for the ones she loves.  Jessie has all of that and more and her humanity touched me in a way that goes beyond time.  The struggles of her family against the often deadly disease of tuberculosis (which is highly contagious) were heartbreaking, but they matured Jessie and kept her from making as many rash decisions as she used to.  In other words: Jessie Pearl grows up big time.  It had a lyrical quality about it, this book, even though it was definitely a prose novel.  I am interested to see what this author comes out with next.  I think she could definitely be the next Patricia MacLachlan, only for the Young Adult set of readers.  Highly recommended to fans of well done YA historical fiction, with strong heroines and well drawn storylines.

VERDICT:  4.5/5  Stars

** received an Advanced Reading E-book Copy from the publisher, via NetGalley. No money or favors were exchanged for this review. This book was published February 1st, 2013.**


  1. What a lovely review! I just read this book too, and loved it. You put into words my thoughts exactly!

  2. I, too, loved the book. Jessie is a heart-stealer. Great review!


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