Cover Image: Jack Kerouac is Dead to Me

Jack Kerouac is Dead to Me

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Member Reviews

Jack Kerouac is Dead to Me by Gae Polisner is a book that explores coming of age with a parent who has mental health issues. The main character is interesting, although not very likeable. It is a story that has some intriguing aspects, but falls short with its flip-flopping timeline.

At first glance, Jack Kerouac is Dead to Me seems like a book that will be enlightening and engaging. Mental illness is an important issue to explore in YA novels, however, if not presented properly, it becomes problematic. JL’s mom suffers from dissociative disorder and the way it is dealt with in the book is very vague. Her mom goes to therapy sessions, but her behaviour becomes more and more concerning as the novel progresses. None of the adult characters are supportive or helpful, which is shocking in a YA novel. JL is on her own and essentially has no adult that she can turn to for help.

❀ NOT AN ENJOYABLE MAIN CHARACTER

JL is a really hard character to enjoy. She has quite an interesting hobby of raising rare butterflies that provides an entertaining and educational side to the book. However, she makes a lot of poor decisions that she rarely feels the consequences of. For instance, JL is so desperate to escape her home life that she steals thousands of dollars in cash to give her boyfriend. There are never any repercussions for JL from this behaviour, and as I have indicated earlier, it is hard to swallow in a novel for young adults.

❀ TIMELINE IS ALL OVER THE PLACE

Also, while I enjoyed parts of the story, such as the theme of metamorphosis and the frequent allusions to Jack Kerouac, the timeline is all over the place. There is a constant flip from past to present that makes it hard to follow the story. It would have made more sense to confine the timeline to specific time periods instead of being all over the map.

❀ HIT OR MISS FOR MANY READERS

Jack Kerouac is Dead to Me by Gae Polisner is a book that has a compelling concept, but doesn’t seem to hit the mark. The theme of mental health is not explored in depth, the main character is hard to enjoy, and the writing is all over the place. This is one story that appears to be hit or miss for many readers so far on Goodreads, so I think it will be helpful for readers to take a look at some other opinions as well before deciding to read this one.
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Thank you to NetGalley and the publisher for the arc of this book.

Oh, where to begin..

JL Markham is a 15 year old high school student, dealing with the emotions of a parent lost in a fantasy world and a father who keeps extending his business trip. Her relationship with her once best friend Aubrey is strained, and she doesn't fit in with Aubrey's new popular friends. The only positive in her life is her butterflies, and her relationship with her older boyfriend, Max. 

This story is raw. It's an honest look at a child growing up with a mother with dissociative disorder. She spends her days drinking, misremembering the past, and writing love letters to a dead author. Without JL's father there, she just continues to get worse and JL uses her boyfriend, Max to escape her problems. 

While I understand high schoolers can be pressured for sex, there's something about the age difference and the romanticization of JL's relationships with two older boys that turns me off. Age may just be a number, but there's still the legality of a relationship of this manner. Max is charismatic, but that's all he has to him. I spent most of the book wondering what she saw in him, disliking the way he treated her, and the way he called her Jailbait as if it were a term of endearment. And near the end, all like of him fell away, leaving me upset and feeling like I needed to wash myself to cleanse what had happened. 

The ending left me high and dry. What about the money? She just let that go? It was never missed, and she wasn't reprimanded? Her father just decided to come home, or was there more there? Her mother just got over her disorder? 

The writing was beautiful, and I did appreciate the representation. Overall I feel like this was a book that missed the mark, but I would be interested in reading more less problematic work by this author.
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This was an ethereal, at times meandering book. It was a little difficult in the ebook to keep up with the timeline but I really enjoyed the writing. JL was not smart though. I.know she was only 15 but come on. This book left me a little unsettled.
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Jean Louise Markham thought Aubrey Andersson would be her best friend forever.  They survived some of the worst perils of childhood together and now teetering on the edge of sixteen everything is about to change.

“Aubrey,
I’ve started this letter three times, but each place I begin feels wrong. I get lost in the memories and my thoughts lose their way, and I have to start over again. But, as hard as it is to find my way in, I know I need to try. I have to figure out why we hurt each other the way we did, how we ended up hating each other so much.
Sometimes, I miss you so bad I can’t breathe, and I break down in tears, or get so mad at you I wonder why I even care. But, in my heart, I know why I do. You were always my best friend, Aubrey, the one person who understood.
I hope you will understand now.”

Everyone knows how precarious JL’s homelife is.  Her father has been working in California for months on end and her beautiful, yet fragile mother is falling deeper into the blackness of depression.

Her saving grace turns out to be the butterflies gifted to her by her dearest Nana and a boy named Max.

Max Gordon has a wicked grin and an equally wicked reputation. None of that means anything to her because no one sees the side of him that she does.  To her, he’s a poet, an artist and her heart’s confidant all rolled into one. But when old secrets and new desires collide with love letters written to a long-departed author, LJ will learn that she’s far stronger than she ever imagined.

“On my way out, I change my mind again, yank open the drawer with the box, and shove the entire wad of bills into my pocket. 
So be it. She’ll probably never even notice it’s gone. 
As I turn to go, I catch my reflection in the edge of the darkened mirror. Red lips, wild hair. 
Jailbait. 
I smile. 
Maybe Aubrey is right. Maybe I’m a slut and a thief and a Jezebel. 
I pucker my lips, hold my hand to my mouth, and blow a kiss goodbye to that sweet Norman Rockwell girl.”

Jack Kerouac is Dead to Me is nothing like I thought it would be.
Part heartbreaking confession, part poetic love story and part poignant coming of age chronicle, it’s far more stirring to the heart.

Gae’s unforgettable prose communicates the turmoil of her standout characters in a way that had me riveted to the page. The choices that each character makes – both shocking and compassionate - left me emotionally raw but not without hope that brighter days are on the way.  

This is a story that elevates the YA genre to dizzying heights.  And that’s nothing short of remarkable…
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I didn't know much about this book when I requested it.  I thought from the title that it would perhaps be a light-hearted YA roadtrip story.  Um, no...

 

This was a serious novel about teenage sexuality.  But it was also, more subtly, about the neglect and abuse this young teen deals with.  While I found the way the subject matter was presented refreshing in its frankness, I worry that it oversimplifies the reasons teens become sexually active.


What I Liked:

Characters:

J.L. is such a heart-breaking character.  Instead of having caring adults to lean on, she is forced into the role of parent to her mother, who has a mental illness.  This is a heavy burden to put on a kid.

 

And to cope with that burden, she becomes reckless.  She starts drinking, and hanging out with older teens.  I can't help but feel she sought attention from boys because she felt so undervalued at home.  There is more to that, of course, which makes this novel so compelling.

 

I also loved that she came to terms with the slut-shaming she gets from her "friends" with strength, and understands that sexual feelings are nothing to be ashamed of.


What I Was Mixed About:

Teen Sexuality:

This book is brutally honest about teenage sex.  As a reader, I found this refreshing.  Sexual feelings are not romanticized in the slightest, and the author makes it clear that sex is normal and enjoyable.


But, as a parent, I'll be honest, I was appalled.  Not once does anyone in this book think about the consequences of intimacy.  No one is taking any precautions.  I kept wondering when someone was going to end up pregnant or with an STD.  


I also found it creepy that we are reading about the detailed sexual encounters of a fifteen year-old girl! 


This book could be a conversation starter with your teen about healthy attitudes about sex. 


What I Didn't Like:

Accountability:

The adults in this book have a lot of explaining to do!  Both of J.L's parents are so wrapped up in their own dramas that they refuse to be present for J.L.  Even her grandmother has her head in the sand.  She should have taken J.L. into her own home, rather than let her suffer all that neglect.  It was infuriating!


I really felt that J.L. was being sexually abused by much older boys.  Even though she was a willing participant, I can't help but feel these young men saw how vulnerable she was and took advantage of it.  They plied her with alcohol and then talked her into doing increasingly more sexual acts.  It was hard to read, at times.


Reasons for Teen Drinking and Sex:

Although I applaud the author for showing that sexual feelings in teens are healthy and normal, I think there are other factors involved when a very young teen becomes sexually active.  When teens are stressed, or overlooked, they can often self-medicate with alcohol, drugs, and sex.
J.L. had so many worries about her mother, that it seemed inevitable that she would start drinking.  And by giving herself to older boys, she felt valued.  She could lose herself in the high of sex.  This was not healthy, and only made for more problems.

 

I wish the author would have had J.L. become more aware of how destructive her actions were.
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I really found Jack Kerouac Is Dead to Me to be a fascinating book.  It was what I would deem to be a mature YA because it did contain some sexual content.  The story revolved around 15 year old, JL (Jean Louise) who was trying to find her way through a difficult home life while her father was working in another city and his return home was questionable.  In the midst of this, JL's mother is battling mental illness.  All the while, JL is trying to navigate her way through high school after losing her best friend but gaining a new boyfriend.  The issues dealt with in this book are real and gritty.  It wasn't fluffy and cutesy.   In the end, I, personally, felt like the storyline for the secondary characters was wrapped up.  However, I felt like JL's story was still very much up in the air and unresolved.  I just wanted something more for her.

Thank you to NetGalley and St. Martin's Press for this ARC in exchange for an honest review.
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This book gave my emotions a rollercoaster ride!

 This novel is a realistic, almost frightening portrait of a teen’s life, and the day to day struggles. It left me feeling stripped of everything I knew. I felt sad, angry, EVERYTHING.

This story revolves around Jean-Louse, a 15-year-old butterfly enthusiast with a 19-year-old boyfriend and an ill mother. Torn between following her boyfriend to college or staying with her mother, JL feels conflicted. Her mother, suffering from a disassociative disorder, is often sad and in an almost constant state of fogginess. JL feels an obligation to her family but wants to have a future at the same time. 

This is a beautifully written book with a gritty, realistic feel to teenage life, and having to grow up faster than you should. The feeling of being alone is something a lot of teens (and adults) often deal with. 

I am grateful to be able to read a book like this. I cannot wait to see what the author has in store for us next.



Review copy provided by the publisher in exchange for an honest review.
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This was really great. I really enjoyed this and it was such an important read. I 10000% recommend this and I love that there was a jewish main character. I love that we are slowly getting more and more Jewish characters.
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Gae Polisner’s Jack Kerouac is Dead to Me is an oh-so-relatable YA contemporary about the challenges of being a teenager.  The story follows 15-year-old JL Markham who is firmly caught between the pressure of being forced to grow up too fast vs. those of not being allowed to grow up fast enough.  When the novel opens, we learn that JL has had a falling out with her lifelong best friend, Aubrey, and that she is trying to make amends.  It remains to be seen exactly what the falling out was over, but it’s clear the two have been drifting apart for a while now. Aubrey has a whole new circle of friends, while JL is left on the outside looking in.  JL is also dealing with the everyday peer pressure that confronts high school students – parties, drinking, dating, and especially in JL’s case because her boyfriend Max is four years older than she is, the added pressure to have sex, perhaps before one is ready.

Then as if being a teenager isn’t challenging enough, JL is also dealing with absentee parents and thus is pretty much on her own, without any guidance whatsoever, to navigate the issues she is facing.  Her father, although he hasn’t technically abandoned her, has been on the other side of the country for 18 months for his job and rarely checks in, except to push back his return home date.  This is especially disturbing considering JL’s mother is clearly suffering from a mental illness that has left her barely functioning. She sits around wearing kimonos most of the time, drinks a lot, and of all random things, writes love letters to Jack Kerouac (yes, the dead famous author).

Polisner does a tremendous job of making JL a sympathetic character.  She lets the reader inside JL’s head so we can see firsthand how she is coping and what her thoughts are about everything that is going on around her. She’s so lost and overwhelmed, and just hoping that she’s making the right decisions as she tries to figure things out day-by-day.  Max is the only one who is there for her, but is he there for the right reasons?  And where I was sympathetic to JL, I was unfortunately not a big fan of any of the other characters in the book, Max included. It seemed like they were all just either flat out awful to JL or just not there for her at all even though they should have been.  I honestly found myself angry and frustrated at all of them.

Jack Kerouac is Dead to Me is a quick read but it’s also one that packs an emotional punch because of everything JL goes through.  The only reason my rating isn’t higher is because I felt the ending was somewhat abrupt and left me with several questions that weren’t resolved.  Even with my lingering questions, however, it was still another great read from Gae Polisner.
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Aren’t friends and family supposed to be there for you? Why do you have to face things alone?

In Jack Kerouac is Dead to Me, JL (short for Jean-Louise) is 15, and at a time when she’s supposed to be experiencing the carefree fun of being a teenager, her life is full of angst and worry, including and beyond the typical teenager stuff.

Her mother suffers from a dissociative disorder, which leaves her often depressed or in a fog, writing letters to someone who no longer exists. Her father has been out of town on business for months, which only adds to her mother’s despair.

No one seems to notice that JL’s childhood best friend Aubrey has shunned her, or that JL is dating Max, a 19-year-old senior who seems rough around the edges but is far more intelligent than anyone realizes. The only thing that gives JL peace of mind is spending time with the tropical butterflies she raises.

Max wants to go to California when he graduates, and wants JL to come with him. Of course, she can’t leave her mother alone, can she? Would anyone notice? At what point should she think of her own happiness before others?

As Max starts making plans to leave, and her mother slips further and further into despair, JL doesn’t know what to choose. When there’s no one to guide you, how do you decide?

This is a poignant, beautifully written book about the fragility of young friendship, the challenges of having to take responsibility for your parents when you’re still a child, the secrets we keep hidden from ourselves and others, and the feeling that you’re all alone, and no one is there to help you. Gae Polisner so adroitly captures those emotions.

My only quibble with the book is the way the narration meanders. One chapter takes place in middle school, one in the present, one in the slightly recent past—it took a little while to get used to. But Polisner—whose previous books (especially The Memory of Things) blew me away—keeps you hooked on this story.

I am grateful to have been part of the blog tour for this book. Thanks to NetGalley and Wednesday Books for giving me an advanced copy of the book in exchange for an unbiased review. The book publishes 4/7!
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I read this book between April 2nd and April 4th, 2020 and gave it two stars. I think the very first chapters were misleading, and that infuriated me. The book opens with a letter the main character is writing to Aubrey, who we find out is her estranged best friend. I say misleading because the tone of that opening is so dramatic that you'd think Aubrey died or that something really bad happened between her and the main character. 

Jean-Louise, JL, is almost sixteen years old, and that age just didn't sit well with me. We get flashbacks to when JL and Aubrey were younger and there's this one line that says something like "we were more than in love" which made me think this was a queer romance. We were going to see how Aubrey and JL grow together to realize they love each other as something other than friends, but that's not what happens because it was just a dumb line. 

If you're thinking "oh, okay, this is a story about friends who have drifted apart," think again, because that's simply one of the many plotlines in this novel. Let me tell you: it was all over the place. You get JL, who's no longer really friends with Aubrey but that's kind of her fault because she's dating this 19-year-old guy and spending all the time with him. We have the boyfriend who is openly pushing her to have sex with him or at least engage in sexual acts that don't involve penetration. We have JL's mom who suffers from depression and has dissociative episodes because her dad has been in California for months and doesn't seem to come back. And finally, we have the butterflies that JL has raised. 

I know that you're probably wondering where the title of the book comes from. Naturally, the depressed dissociative mom writes love letters to Jack Kerouac. Everything makes sense now, right? Seriously, I don't know what the point of this book was. I thought that if it had followed the friendship plotline I could've given it a solid three stars, but no. This is the kind of story that has so many subplots that in the end nothing gets resolved and I just don't like that. 

JL and her boyfriend Max made a horrible couple, but I will be talking more about their relationship in a NOTP's post. I'm only going to touch on two points about it here. On one hand, I thought that making him nineteen years old was done only to make something in the plot make sense. I'm not telling you what because it would be a spoiler, but it was gross to read about him with this fifteen-year-old. The other thing that bothered me and that would make me not recommend this book to anyone was the fact that he was always pushing JL to have sex with him, or to touch him. He suggested touching her as well and looking at her naked and there was no conversation about consent. Again, that is gross, and that should not be portrayed in books that are being released in 2020 and that are intended for young readers.
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This was a sweet coming of age story, there were many hurtles and heartache. There was a lot of wisdom for a sixteen year old. It takes a lot of maturity to admit when your wrong also to say your sorry. To find strength and peace, for what you are going through as you mature.
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This was one of the most unique contemporaries I've read in a minute, and I'm still trying to process how I feel about it.

On one hand, it's a beautiful story about a girl practically raising herself, due to an absent father and mentally ill mother. She's quirky, she raises butterflies. She has a boyfriend, and an ex-best friend who left her to become popular.

On the other hand, it's kind of a super sad story. JL has no one really in her corner: her four-years-older boyfriend just wants to take her virginity, her ex-best friend thinks she's "a skank" because her mom has completely lost her shit, and her dad makes empty promises of coming home.

I loved that JL was more independent than a whole lot of fifteen-year-old girls I've read. She knows what kind of person she is, and that's a huge thing. There's a whole lot of slut shaming in this story, and JL does at least try to challenge it, but only slightly.

I think the thing I disliked the most was the fact that none of JL's teachers ever bothered to check on her. She was obviously bright, but once her grades started tanking, NO ONE checked on her! She was so alone! And the way Audrey and Ethan treated her? Oh, I was FUMING.

Jack Kerouac's connection to the story was slight, as in, JL's grandmother made out with him on her eighteenth birthday, and her mother wrote letters to him daily. I don't know if it was because of the story of the snog? Or because of some obsession that only makes sense in depression!brain? I don't know, really.

A quick read with sweet moments, my overall vibe for this story was uh, rage at every other character. I give Jack Kerouac is Dead to Me 3 out of 5 Blue Morphos. Thank you the NetGalley for providing a copy in exchange for review.
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I received an ARC of this book through NetGalley. 
Sometimes I have books that make me rethink my love for young adult fiction.  They seem unrealistic because they don't match the experiences I had, or the teenagers seem too naive or too worldly, or the plot just seems wacky.  This was one of those books for me, though I can't put my finger on an exact reason.  
Jack Kerouac is Dead to Me is about JL-who has lost her best friend-not to death or moving away-but because there's distance between the two of them. And the reason for the distance-her friend's (Aubrey) parents and JL's mother's mental illness.  Reading the story-told mostly from JL's point of view, alternating from growing up with her friend and the present (spring of tenth grade)-I was frustrated with JL for her obliviousness and hero worship of her boyfriend, but more angry with the adults in the novel.  Instead of the adults trying to help JL and her family, they talk, which passes down to their daughters.  And while I know that is how things seem to go-I wanted more for JL and her mom.  
I'm not sure this is the review this book deserves.  Maybe it's not that the book is bad, but that it upset me-JL is young, has little to no guidance and is left to fend for her own in every aspect of her life due to absent adults.  Give it a try yourself.
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I received a free digital copy of this book from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

I enjoyed this book a lot! I really loved the writing style and the world building. The layout of this book is marvelous! I really enjoyed just everything about this book. 

Thank you kindly to the author, the publisher, and NetGalley for this review copy.
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Title:  Jack Kerouac is Dead to Me
Author:  Gae Polisner
Genre:  YA	
Rating:  4.5 out of 5

Fifteen-year-old JL Markham’s life used to be filled with carnival nights and hot summer days spent giggling with her forever best friend Aubrey about their families and boys. Together, they were unstoppable. But they aren’t the friends they once were.

With JL’s father gone on long term business, and her mother struggling with her mental illness, JL takes solace in the tropical butterflies she raises, and in her new, older boyfriend, Max Gordon. Max may be rough on the outside, but he has the soul of a poet (something Aubrey will never understand). Only, Max is about to graduate, and he's going to hit the road - with or without JL.

JL can't bear being left behind again. But what if devoting herself to Max not only means betraying her parents, but permanently losing the love of her best friend? What becomes of loyalty, when no one is loyal to you?

This book. Seriously. I am not even sure what to say about it. It broke my heart—not because it was bad, but because it was so good! I felt for JL so much. She’s lost her best friend to whatever came between them, she’s lost her dad to business, her mom to dissociative disorder, her grandmother who seems to be in denial…she’s basically lost everyone in her life. Except Max, her new, older boyfriend…that everyone at school says horrible things about, including her in the rumors, too.

JL is on the verge of growing up. She wants to grow up—at least she thinks so—but she has no one to show her the way. She can’t even sort out what she wants in her own mind, she just knows she wants more. I was right there with her, experiencing everything—even the horrible stuff—and I loved every page. Even when it broke my heart.

GAE POLISNER is the award-winning author of In Sight of Stars, The Memory of Things, The Summer of Letting Go, The Pull of Gravity, and Jack Kerouac is Dead to Me. She lives on Long Island with her husband, two sons, and a suspiciously-fictional looking dog. When Gae isn't writing, you can find her in a pool or the open waters off Long Island. She's still hoping that one day her wetsuit will turn her into a superhero.

(Galley courtesy of St. Martin’s Press in exchange for an honest review.)
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No,  you do not need to know anything about Jack Kerouac to follow this story. The only thing I knew about him was that he wrote On the Road, and I couldn’t even tell you what it’s about! I have a hard time reading classics, so I love contemporary takes. However, Kerouac doesn’t play a big role in this story, and the only thing I learned about him was that his birth name was Jean-Louis, after which JL was named, as JL’s mom and nana have an obsession with him. It’s possible that I may have missed some symbolism regarding Kerouac, but it didn’t take anything away from my reading experience.

“And, yet, it isn’t about me, suddenly. It’s what you have decided. You have judged me as one thing, and at some point, I will disappoint you by proving you wrong.”

This coming-of-age story follows JL as she grapples with the different relationships in her life: family, best friend, first love. The whimsy and romance of youth was given some edge by unexpectedly heavy themes, and the heavy themes were made accessible with the lighter tone.

A‌ major theme in the book was sexual exploration. JL’s candour about this was refreshing. But exploring this beautiful part of human nature doesn’t come without some challenges. On one hand, JL‌ faced being slut shamed by her best friend (who knew being called a slutty butterfly could be so traumatic lol), and on the other hand, she also had to contend with the pressure to have sex by her older boyfriend. The juxtaposition of these conflicts made rich ground for exploration, but I don’t think the conversation reached its full potential, as the end was too rushed and tidy, leaving much unresolved.

Growing up is hard. Women undergo so much scrutiny. We’re criticised for being too much and not enough. Navigating this is an ongoing process. Fighting this is an ongoing process. It’s a lot to tackle for anyone, let alone a high school sophomore like JL. Who wouldn’t get a bit angsty?

A‌ last note:‌ A minor theme was mental illness, which I didn’t think was treated with as much care as it could have been. I‌ think diving deeper into the theme of sexual exploration would have been enough.
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This her fifth book and it definitely lives up to her standards. Although not my favourite of hers the story was unique and JL as a character felt very realistic.

I loved the layout of JL writing to Aubrey in a letter format explaining why they are no longer friends. It deals with questions most 15 year olds will ask themselves and is a great exploration of finding who you are.

I must say personally I didn't really understand the butterflies and felt they were quite a central part of the book which I did not connect with. However I have seen many people who have loved this aspect.
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Aching is a word that comes to mind when I think of this book. Messy and conflicting in a way that reflects what J.L. is feeling and dealing with, I binge-read it in a day and a half. Absolutely stunning and heart wrenching.
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"Jack Kerouac is Dead to Me" should have an alternate title, as suggested by my boyfriend: "The Plot is Dead to Me". The plot is non-existent and shouldn't masquerade as one. The only good thing I have to say about the book is the portrayal of sexual content, which is done in a mature and responsible manner (and also reads nicely). However, I don't want to recommend a book based solely on sexual content. The purpose of "Jack Kerouac" is not to make someone desire sexual intercourse, but rather to tell a story about a fifteen year old girl and her journey to happiness and I feel that this book failed in that objective.
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