Review: Owning Jolene

Owning Jolene A random, recent Twitter conversation with @ShelMKE about the rarity of the name Shelby reminded me of an author I had met while in college, Shelby Hearon. I had the honor of interviewing her as part of my duties as literary arts magazine editor, but, typically of a college student, had run out of time to actually read any of her books before the interview. I remedied this after the fact and wished I had been in a better position to ask about the genesis of her quirky characters. Her books are eminently readable, and offer a subtle commentary on knowing yourself, growing up, and living successfully within dysfunctional families.

In this particular book, a young woman whose wildly opposing parents kidnapped her back and forth from the time of their separation when she was nine, finally strikes out on her own. She falls in with a painter who uses her as a live, nude model. They have an affair while she sorts out her relationship with the people in her life.

She’s perplexed enough about whom she ought to be “playing” that when the artist’s show opens, and she discovers she’s been literally laid bare for the world to see, she faces a crisis of self that forces her to examine who she is and who she wants to be.

It’s a subtle coming of age story, with more than a few oddities to spice up an otherwise southern manner story. Given some of the adult themes, it might not be appropriate for younger teens, but its conclusion of self-empowerment and the ability of an individual to align even the most misfit parts of themselves into a strong whole make it worth sharing with young women who are looking for a context for their own oddities.

I strongly recommend this book not only for its unique characterizations, but also its ability to put experiences into a framework that allow them to push an individual toward growth.

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