Book of the Day
The Jealous Kind
Anyone familiar with the music of alt-country artist Rodney Crowell knows that 1950s Houston had little in common with the 1950s of television sitcoms. In James Lee Burke’s The Jealous Kind (Simon and Schuster, 2016), seventeen-year-old Aaron Holland Broussard’s life bears no resemblance to TV’s Cunninghams or Cleavers. His gritty Houston is a darker West Side Story, with a skyline the color of “the glitter of thousands of razor blades.” There are violent teenage gangs everywhere, toting chains and switchblades, and no one dares to cross into the opponents’ part of town. Moreover, oil has created wealth, and wealth begets people to exploit it—the kind who “look like they’re glued together from other people’s body parts.” This is the world Aaron is cautiously navigating—until he dumps caution to the pavement and spits on it.
Aaron gets on the mob’s bad side when he interferes with Grady, a connected man’s son who is mistreating his girlfriend. Aaron instantly falls in love with the girl, Valerie, further enraging his new nemesis. Aaron’s best friend, Saber Bledsoe, is foolish without fear and finds ingenious ways to enrage their enemies. The bad guys strike back, framing Aaron and Saber for a nasty crime against a man the boys have good reason to hate.
Saber befriends two criminals in his short jail stay, and suddenly Grady’s expensive cars come up missing. Saber clearly has more moxie than brains, and Aaron reflects that a conversation with him is akin to “talking to the driver of a concrete mixer (backing through) a clock shop.” But Aaron refuses to turn his back on his friend, even when the organized criminals suspect him of wrongdoing and threaten to hurt Valerie, Aaron’s pets, and his parents. The mob doesn’t forgive and forget. Aaron must come up with another way out of the trouble he and Saber are in—as well as try to figure out who is responsible for a murder the police aren’t interested in solving.
It is obvious Aaron survives to tell us the tale. The reader isn’t sure if the same is true for Saber and Valerie, as there is a sense of escalating danger and impending doom for most of the story. Houston as a setting is so vividly drawn it is a character in itself. The sparkling image of the 1950s that post-Baby Boomers were raised on is clearly a whitewash this book corrects like a slap to the head. The Jealous Kind is a mystery, a love story, and a coming-of-age story, wrapped up in one excellent package. Open it and enjoy the gift.
Laura Stewart Schmidt is a lifelong reader who was inspired by “good books for bad children” such as Harriet the Spy and Otis Spofford. She has a degree in Political Science with a minor in Criminal Justice from the University of Missouri-St. Louis. Laura worked for several years as a community education coordinator, encouraging parents to read to their children and setting up reading clubs for middle-school students.
Laura spent two years as a family court advocate for at-risk youth and parents suffering from substance addiction. She also worked for several years at an agency offering one-on-one support for children and adults with developmental disabilities and their families.
Her current writing project is:
DON’T FEAR, MY DARLING, a suspense novel in the tradition of Hallie Ephron’s THERE WAS AN OLD WOMAN. Louisa is grieving her cherished grandfather’s death and stumbling through a series of demeaning jobs when she finds the perfect position–a live-in secretary to an elderly author, Marguerite Roberts. Louisa’s Native American heritage teaches respect of elders, and she is puzzled that Marguerite’s family members have nothing to do with her. But Louisa soon realizes there is much more to the job than she expected. Nothing in the family is what it appears to be, and Louisa begins to fear for Marguerite’s life–and her own.
Laura lives near St. Louis with her husband and two dogs. She is a member of Sisters in Crime http://www.sistersincrime.org/ and the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI) https://www.scbwi.org/.