Sunday, February 22, 2015

Looking for JJ by Anne Cassidy

It was national news when three children went into the woods at Berwick Waters but only two came back out, and even years late the name Jennifer Jones still makes its way into the news.  Alice Tully reads every article with a greedy and intense interest, trying to absorb everything the media has to say about the child killer.  It is not a morbid fascination with a killer though, it is her way of keeping up-to-date about what the media knows about Jennifer Jones - because Alice Tully is Jennifer Jones.  Released from the secure unit that was her home while she served her sentence Alice is learning about the world again, experiencing life before moving on to university and getting on with her life under a new identity to protect her identity.

Alice has not forgotten the events that lead up to the murder, she never could, but she has been trying to find her feet in a strange new world.  She has a bright future if she can stay on track - a placement at university studying a course she really wants to, a boyfriend who loves her and who she loves, and a supportive caregiver who has given her a safe haven to start  her life.  All that security and relative comfort is rocked when a private detective arrives in town who is keen to track her down, at a time when she is already back in the press because her release date is coming up.  Everything she has worked for is starting to slip between her fingers, and as she starts to loose control the memories of her past resurface and threaten to drag her under.

Looking for JJ is one of those books that grabs you and wont let go.  I first read it when it came out ten years ago and I remember it making a huge impact.  I picked it up to read it again because I found a copy of Finding Jennifer Jones and I wanted to refresh my memory of what had happened.  What I found on the second reading was a book that is shocking and confronting, mostly because Jennifer/Alice is portrayed in a very sympathetic light - something that some readers will struggle with.  Alice is not a villain, she didn't kill for pleasure or revenge, she killed by accident.  Reading the book for a second time I was captivated by the development of her character, which we experience through a series of flashbacks which show a neglected child.  There are thousands if not millions of children like Alice out there, children who fall through the cracks because of failings in the social work and justice systems.

One of the more interesting things for me on the second reading was the knowledge that this really does happen, young offenders are relocated with new identities after serving their sentences.  As an adult reading Looking for JJ I couldn't help but draw parallels to the case of the murder of James Bulger and the events in Looking for JJ - mostly because of the way Jennifer is released and relocated as Alice.  These parallels may not be as apparent to a teenager or young adult, but I can remember watching the news and being horrified over the murder, and then surprised about the two killers being released and protected after their release.  There is a lot of depth to the story of Jennifer/Alice and Anne Cassidy shares it with surprising depth and sensitivity - she doesn't excuse or defend the actions of Jennifer, and she doesn't sensationalise it either.

This is a powerful novel that deserves to be discovered and read - although I would recommend it for older teens because of the contents of the novel.  There are some very mature themes here and it will no doubt generate quite a few questions and feelings about Alice and what happens.  Although Looking for JJ and Finding Jennifer Jones can be read independently I jumped straight from one to the other and highly recommend this approach.

If you like this book then try:

Reviewed by Brilla

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