Your parents die in movie theater fire when you are six. How do you deal with the trauma? Jacob Jasper Jones, JJ to his friends, finds solace in alcohol. Having lost his mom and dad to the fire, and his sister to an adoptive mother, JJ is now 16 with badly scarred legs and a sizeable chip on his shoulder.
JJ’s sister Penny was adopted by his mother’s best friend and business partner, Darryl. JJ was also supposed to join Darryl’s family, but a fight between JJ and Darryl’s son Patrick sealed JJ’s fate. Not welcome. As a result, JJ was forced to live with his aunt Maggie, who put her career on hold for him.
JJ’s drinking is the only way he has found to relieve stress and to keep his anger at bay. JJ describes the stress inside like “a winding spring,” and alcohol is the only thing keeping it from snapping. JJ’s reoccurring dreams of the fire featuring a man with a tattoo on his hand also cause JJ inner turmoil. Quiet and mysterious, he does not like to share with others. JJ lives inside his own head, tormented by the past and present. It is no surprise that JJ acts out, perpetuating the cycle of self-destructive behavior.
When JJ is caught trespassing one night and given community service, Darryl, considering JJ dangerous and a bad influence, forbids him from visiting Penny. Angry, JJ accidentally cuts his hand, and while at the hospital, meets Dr. Ben Peragena. Eavesdropping on a conversation between Dr. Ben and his Aunt Maggie, JJ discovers Dr. Ben is the man who saved JJ from the fire 10 years ago, and lost his daughter in the same inferno.
JJ feels a kinship with Dr. Ben that he has never felt with anybody else, including his many therapists. JJ feels that he can talk to Dr. Ben, and with Dr. Ben’s counsel, begins to address some of his issues, finally recognizing he is stuck in a cycle and needs to break it.
McKinley Smith, gay, out, proud, and popular, is tutoring Penny and allows JJ to sit with them and assist. They become close friends and JJ, while drunk at a party, shares his dream of the tattooed man with McKinley. Intensely curious about the mystery surrounding the theater fire, the boys brainstorm ideas and, McKinley suggests a gala to commemorate the 10-year anniversary of the fire as a possible way to lure the arsonist out of hiding. JJ and McKinley want to solve the mystery of the fire, McKinley for the mystery and JJ so that he can put the past to rest.
Things are going so well for JJ that a bad grade in English class has a devastating effect on JJ’s fragile ego. Something like a bad grade may not have had an effect on JJ in the past, but now, a sober JJ just can’t handle it. McKinley is in class and JJ has no one to talk to, except his friend Lewis and a bottle of tequila. JJ is caught drunk during his volunteer work at the hospital, and the floodgates open. Maggie is called to Dr. Ben’s office where a distraught JJ admits he is gay, has an alcohol problem, and that he is looking for closure from the fire. Now that the truth is out, will JJ’s life ever be the same?
Parkhurst skillfully created the world inhabited by JJ, a troubled 16-year-old boy, his family, and friends. Considering his past and present, JJ as a character felt real and human, and his attitude and behavior felt right, not exaggerated or contrived. In fact, all of the characters in Every Inferno had depth and uniqueness, apart from Darryl, who only had one setting: bitch. Everyone thinks Darryl is crazy; she is certainly intense in her hatred for JJ.
There is so much depth to the story as well. I was never left wondering “why?” as the pace and flow were well thought out and executed. Things like JJ at the gala, for example. You would think he would have issues returning to the scene of the crime, but a smoothly inserted explanation filled the gap, and also demonstrated that even with all of his issues, JJ was on the path to recovery, even if he did not know it at the time.
Dr. Ben lost his daughter in the fire but was the one that saved JJ then and appears to be JJ’s hope for the future. What a hell of a lot of pressure, not just for JJ, but for Maggie, Dr. Ben, and especially McKinley, who tries so hard to keep JJ on the straight and narrow. When JJ stumbles, McKinley does not know what to do. Of course not, he himself is 16 years old, just another way Parkhurst infused a hit of reality to the story.
The cycle continues, the spring winds up, but will JJ find a way to break free before it breaks him, and he loses everything, including McKinley? Is JJ worth a second, third, fourth chance? JJ needs to break the cycle of anger and destruction, and he needs to do it for himself, but not by himself.
One of the things with young adult titles that I have found, is that the MCs tend to suffer from an overdose of angst. Parkhurst crafted a group of teens that never fell into the realm of caricature, that were likeable regardless of their faults, and made me feel for them.
The ending. The amazing, surprising, insane, I can’t believe it happened, I didn’t see it coming, but it made perfect sense ending. Need I say more? There are so many books out there with the “shocking” ending where the author throws us for a loop, but when we look back at the story, the conclusion was illogical. This is not one of those cases. There was enough circumstantial information seeded through the story to make the ending almost perfect. I say almost because to me, the last chapter was more like an epilogue and that is where some things did not make sense, but not to the detriment of the overall story.
Every Inferno definitely exceeded my expectations for a young adult novel, and dealt with some pretty heavy subject matter while managing to stay away from being preachy, or portraying overly angst ridden teens. I really felt for JJ and at every point in his story, I was rooting for him to succeed and I am sure that you will feel the same way.
A review copy of this book was provided by Dreamspinner Press.