2017-07-13 / Top News


Bold young adult novel probes into the psyche of troubled teen

¦ “Rosie Girl” by Julie Shepard. Putnam. 384 pages. Trade paperback, $17.99. ¦ “Rosie Girl” by Julie Shepard. Putnam. 384 pages. Trade paperback, $17.99. Once again, I’m shaken by a young adult novel. It’s filled with cruelty, suffering, determination and decisions that shouldn’t have to be made by someone just emerging from childhood.

Rosie is 17 as we meet her. She turns 18 about the same time she graduates from high school. She seems isolated, left to fend for herself in a household in which Lucy, her abusive stepmother, displays no parenting skills — only an interest in hurting and manipulating Rosie.

It’s clear that the responsibility to care for Rosie she took on many years back has been in the way of Lucy’s needs. No longer married to Rosie’s father, Lucy now doesn’t want to deal with her boyfriend Judd’s crude advances toward her stepdaughter. When she married Rosie’s father, Lucy made a deal that would have a substantial payoff. She doesn’t want to rock the boat that is sailing to that payoff, perfectly timed for Lucy’s freedom from “parenting” Rosie.

SHEPARD SHEPARD Rosie is also fighting the humiliation of ex-boyfriend Ray’s unwillingness to respect her wishes. She is not ready to have sex with him, and this stance has sent him looking elsewhere.

Rosie leans on her best — and pretty much her only — friend: Mary. Mary is extremely supportive and understanding, perhaps because she too is striving to survive a dysfunctional family. Both girls want to get away from their dismal home situations, save up some money and get out of town so they can move on with their lives. Rosie is considering studying fashion design, but how can she pay for it?

The girls have worked out a plan in which Rosie is essentially Mary’s pimp: Mary puts out for the sex-hungry schoolboys, and the money is set aside for the girls’ futures — which are just around the corner. When Rosie receives clues that her real mother is alive, the money is redirected toward tracking her down and visiting her. She hires a private detective who takes this as a pro bono case and turns most of the scut work over to his nephew, a straight-arrow college student who pays attention to Rosie in a respectful way.

Rosie also encounters the likelihood of an inheritance.

The visit to the sanitarium in Colorado is one of the high points of the novel, placed right where it should be. What is revealed there about mother and daughter is astonishing and makes one rethink everything that’s come before (so resist the temptation to leap ahead).

In “Rosie Girl,” many worlds collide. These include the world of high school, the world of the Miami area, the world of family dysfunction and the world of madness. Each is deftly and vividly portrayed, and each contributes insights and surprises.

Several minor characters stand out, though they are only briefly center stage. These include teenage boys and girls of Rosie’s acquaintance, teachers and staff at the school, John the detective and his nephew (who is a very important and striking minor character) and an older neighborhood woman who befriends Rosie.

What goes on inside Rosie’s head is what readers will find most engrossing. The author has pinned down that threshold time of life: its yearnings and frustrations, its quick mood changes, its confused values, its encounters with loyalty and betrayal, its mixture of audacity and guilt, hope and hopelessness. Whatever part of the seesaw Rosie is on, Mary seems to be her counterpart on the other side.

Julie Shepard’s book is powerful, moving and frightening. I haven’t yet decided whether I should share it with my 17-year-old granddaughter. I’d better ask her mother, whose 17th year I remember only too well.

About the author

After receiving her degree in English literature from the University of Florida, Julie Shepard earned her teaching certificate and taught seventh-grade English and several after-school creative writing programs. It was during this time she developed a keen ear for adolescent drama and knew that young adult fiction was the path her writing journey would take. Although she left the classroom years ago, her passion for crafting dark, edgy stories continues. She attends writing conferences and workshops, and meets for critique sessions with writing group members.

While her sons have already escaped the household, she and her husband still occupy their own slice of paradise in Fort Lauderdale. ¦

— Phil Jason, Ph. D., United States Naval Academy professor emeritus of English, is a poet, critic and freelance writer with 20 books to his credit, including several studies of war literature and a creative writing text.

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