Jack Kerouac is Dead to Me

A Novel

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Pub Date 07 Apr 2020 | Archive Date 21 Apr 2020
St. Martin's Press, Wednesday Books


"Jack Kerouac is Dead to Me is an absolutely real, raw and emotional read, and it's a book that touched my heart with every page." - Katie McGarry, critically acclaimed author of Only a Breath Apart

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?

Gae Polisner’s Jack Kerouac is Dead to Me is a story about the fragility of female friendship, of falling in love and wondering if you are ready for more, and of the glimmers of hope we find by taking stock in ourselves.

"Jack Kerouac is Dead to Me is an absolutely real, raw and emotional read, and it's a book that touched my heart with every page." - Katie McGarry, critically acclaimed author of Only a Breath Apart

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ISBN 9781250312235
PRICE $18.99 (USD)

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Average rating from 146 members

Featured Reviews

‘Is it wrong to do stuff with a person you love?’

JL (Jean Louise) Markham is 15 years old, and she’s having a tough year. Her father is on a business trip, which keeps getting extended, and her mother has retreated into her own world. JL’s best friend Aubrey doesn’t seem to have much time for JL anymore: she has made new friends. If it wasn’t for the tropical butterflies that JL raises (thanks to her grandmother) life would be bleak. Except for Max.

Max Gordon is JL’s 19-year-old boyfriend. He’s about to graduate and then he intends to hit the road: leaving Long Island for California. JL would like to go with him. Whatever life with Max holds in store, it is surely better than being left behind. Her mother is unwell, and JL’s best friend has deserted her in favour of other friends. Aubrey does not like Max. What can keep JL home?

While much of this story is contained with a couple of months of JL’s sophomore year, what has happened earlier is also important. The story unfolds through a letter JL writes to Aubrey, a letter in which she tries to explain what happened.

‘What is it that makes us suddenly remember, Aubrey? What makes us take notice of what is actually around us, rather than what we want to see?

I’m not going to write more about the actual story: each reader will take it at his or her own pace; each reader will have their own reaction. I remember being 15 years old (almost half a century ago). I remember having to try to work out which choices to make, and possible consequences. I remember being overwhelmed. Reading this novel takes me right back into that space, thankful I survived. And JL? Which choices will she make?

This is Ms Polisner’s fifth YA novel, and the fourth I have read. (Yes, ‘The Summer of Letting Go’ is still on my reading list. I have bought a copy; I just need to schedule time to read it.) Ms Polisner continues to create believable characters and places them in challenging (but realistic) situations. Highly recommended both for young (and not so young) adults.

Note: My thanks to NetGalley and St Martin’s Press for providing me with a free electronic copy of this book for review purposes.

Jennifer Cameron-Smith

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Some may believe this is "make-believe", but Gae Polisner's new story, out next April, shows one girl's life in all its reality; all its hopes, some horribly dashed; yet, she keeps on, making choices that are "right" for her. Will you agree with every part? Perhaps not, but in the turmoil of this young teen whose father is away for work longer and longer, whose mother is drifting away in a heart-breaking mental disorder, and whose bestie Aubrey has drifted on to other girlfriends, readers will cling with her as they wish her better days.
JL writes her story in a long journal/letter to Aubrey about everything that has happened since the two stopped being friends. It moves back and forth in time, layer upon layer. JL Markham is fifteen, now finding some pleasant hours with the tropical butterflies she has recently been raising, and in Max, a new love, but an older senior who'll be leaving town soon. The age gap is of some concern, but Max seems JL's only anchor at this time. The plight of a young girl with few people to turn to fills us readers with worry, something we all might consider if we have the time to take with a young person. Polisner has offered much to ponder in this book!
Questioning, questioning is part of what Gae Polisner shows JL doing: Should she leave with Max? Can she leave her mother without anyone to care for her? How can she find her special friendship with Aubrey again? How far can she go sexually to show she loves Max? The inner turmoil shown with JL telling her story is poignant, feels very real to me, although I suspect teens hide problems too well from the adults in their lives, perhaps the biggest tragedy? And perhaps adults should be reading this story, too?

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I really enjoyed this book. The main character JL allows the reader to really feel what she is feeling at the time. Her relationships with the other characters are told rather well and really show how JL grows throughout the story. A great tale of a 15 year old dealing with growing up and expectations.

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JL and Aubrey used to be best friends. That is, they were until JL's dad left and she started dating Max Gordon. JL's mother has gone off the deep end after her father left to California for work and Aubrey doesn't approve of JL dating someone so much older and with a bit of a bad reputation. But JL is just trying to cling to things that make her happy, even if it seems a bit self destructive.


I really enjoyed the writing in this book. The prose was beautiful and drew me into the story in a way a book hasn't in quite some time. JL's struggles felt real. Even though I grew kind of annoyed with her actions at times, I never felt disconnected from the story. I also enjoyed JL's love of butterflies and how these creatures were woven into the story.

One thing I will note is the amount of explicit sexual content (no actual sex, but some sexual acts) throughout the book. As someone who reads YA for potential classroom library books, this isn't a good fit for me. As someone who reads YA for myself, I loved the book.

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A unique set of characters interact and influence each other in this coming of age story. A father who works across the country, a mother who hides in the house, a free spirited grandmother, an older boyfriend about to graduate, an ex-best friend, and some newly hatched exotic butterflies all impact JL as she navigates this year of change and upheaval. An interesting story with a satisfying ending. I couldn't wait to see how it all turned out. Another great novel from an insightful writer.

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JL Markham is on the verge . . . Of turning 16. Of sleeping with her boyfriend (the poetic & swoonworthy Max Gordon). Of forever walking away from her already fractured friendship with Aubrey. Of losing her grip. And she can't bear to suffer one more loss. When Max makes her an offer to hit the road, what will JL be willing to risk?

JL's mom is on the edge. Because her husband has been living in California for work. Because she struggles with mental illness. Because while the other adults in her life love her, they may not know how to help her. So she writes letter.

JL has a connection to butterflies. Perhaps because she is also in a state of transformation. Or because while she might sometimes feel fragile, she has constantly shown how resilient she is. But maybe it is because she is ready to take flight. There is a particular scene that reminded me of a favorite poem of mine (The Love of Travellers by Angela Jackson).

I have read all of Polisner's books. But there was something about the writing here that felt more exposed and wholly vulnerable. This narrative does not unfold chronologically but more back and forth in time, episodically. I was captivated by this book about family, friendship, love, and forgiveness.

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This book! Gae Polisner's voice is incredible in this story. I made the mistake of starting it right before bed and was incredibly tired the next day because I couldn't put it down. Totally worth it, though. The story is dark and the feelings are intense, but it's the kind of story I live for.

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JL Markham is a 15-year-old girl who is out of sorts with her world around her. She lives with her mentally-ill mother, has lost her best friend to a group of other girls and her dad is on a business trip that keeps getting extended. She decides to write a long-flowing letter to her friend Aubrey, letting her know what has happened since the two girls had parted ways. She is hopelessly trying to cling to things from her old life even if those things are leading her down a path of self-destruction.
Additionally, JL is also madly in puppy love with a senior named Max who is rough on the outside, but also shows her that one the inside he has the soul of a poet. Their age difference causes problems in that Max is ready to pack up and get the heck out of town once senior year ends, but what about JL? At only 15, she’s stuck between staying and disobeying her parents to run away with Max.
Gae Polisner’s Jack Kerouac is Dead to Me is a story of coming of age and the frailty of female friendships during that pivotal time in young women’s lives. JL is stuck between who she is going to become and who she is going to have let go of. It is never an easy time or decision to begin living in your future instead of your past. This is Polisner’s fifth young adult novel and she shines with it. The voice of JL is poignantly 15-years-old and not overly dramatic or overly subtle like some writers go when writing younger characters. Jack Kerouac is Dead to Me is a believable story of a young girl trying to find herself on the other side of adolescence while not completely losing who and what she was before. I would recommend this book for adults as well as middle-grade readers who are looking for something a little more in-depth.
While a 15-year-old’s love story might not be something most adults would pick up, I think you will find that Polisner has written this so well that it brings you back to your own time as a young girl in love for the first time, trying to navigate your relationships, your friendships and your own dreams. The darkness and the tragedies that befall JL show the strength of youth in times of adversity and how even though we may be young when we face them, we very much feel them every step of our journey through them. When you pick this one up, get ready for an authentic and emotionally raw journey through adolescence and your first love.
Book Information
Jack Kerouac is Dead to Me by Gae Polisner is scheduled to be released on April 7, 2020 from Wednesday Books, an imprint of St. Martin’s Press with ISBN 9781250312235. This review corresponds to an advanced electronic galley that was supplied by the publisher in exchange for this review. All thoughts are entirely my own and I have not received any compensation for this review.

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I love love loved this book!! I don’t know exactly how to put it into words. The darkness, the characters, the story...just sooo right. I loved the grittiness and the reality. I just couldn’t put it down. It is a book that left me thinking about each choice that the characters made. Life isn’t easy, especially when the ones who are supposed to love you most are the ones that make it complicated. A must read as far as I’m concerned.

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