On My Bookshelf: Jack Kerouac Is Dead To Me by Gae Polisner

May 04, 2020

In Jack Kerouac is Dead to Me by Gae Polisner, the main character, JL, is struggling to navigate high school with a physically absent father and a mentally absent mother. She's dating a senior who everyone else has pegged as bad news (and spoiler, they aren't wrong) and the rift between her and her best friend continues to grow. Read on for more of my review and ideas for classroom application.
The basic plot from Amazon: Fifteen-year-old JL Markham’s life used to be filled with carnival nights and hot summer days spent giggling with her forever best friend Aubrey about their families and boys. Together, they were unstoppable. But they aren’t the friends they once were.

With JL’s father gone on long term business, and her mother struggling with her mental illness, JL takes solace in the tropical butterflies she raises, and in her new, older boyfriend, Max Gordon. Max may be rough on the outside, but he has the soul of a poet (something Aubrey will never understand). Only, Max is about to graduate, and he's going to hit the road - with or without JL.

JL can't bear being left behind again. But what if devoting herself to Max not only means betraying her parents, but permanently losing the love of her best friend? What becomes of loyalty, when no one is loyal to you?

Gae Polisner’s Jack Kerouac is Dead to Me is a story about the fragility of female friendship, of falling in love and wondering if you are ready for more, and of the glimmers of hope we find by taking stock in ourselves.

In Jack Kerouac is Dead to Me by Gae Polisner, the main character, JL, is struggling to navigate high school with a physically absent father and a mentally absent mother. She's dating a senior who everyone else has pegged as bad news (and spoiler, they aren't wrong) and the rift between her and her best friend continues to grow. Read on for more of my review and ideas for classroom application.
Why I liked it: I loved Gae Polisner's previous novels, The Memory of Things and In Sight of Starsand her treatment of mental health issues, and her newest novel,
Jack Kerouac is Dead to Me, is no different.

The main character, JL, is struggling to navigate high school with a physically absent father and a mentally absent mother. She's dating a senior who everyone else has pegged as bad news (and spoiler, they aren't wrong) and the rift between her and her best friend continues to grow.

My heart broke for JL over and over throughout the book. She is forced to be her own parent, never knowing what state she'll find her mother in each day when she returns home. While Max, her boyfriend, isn't all bad, at least not at first, all too soon he finds ways to take advantage of JL. So much of the unraveling of her friendship with Aubrey could have been prevented with a difficult, yet honest conversation, one that JL just isn't confident enough to have. Instead, she allows her fears and insecurities to push her further and further from someone who had been such an anchor in her life.

The ending left me with some questions, but I highly recommend this one as an accurate depiction of the intricacies of friendship between teenage girls.

Classroom application: I would recommend this one for high school and up because of the mature content (drug and alcohol use, sex, etc.). Students who have enjoyed Nina LaCour's books like We Are Okay and Hold Still, and Laurie Halse Anderson's Wintergirls will also enjoy this one. JL's relationship with Max as a result of her desire to be wanted is one most teenage girls can also relate to and reminded me of aspects of Caitlin's relationship with Rogerson in Dreamland by Sarah Dessen (though their relationship problems take two very different directions).

For more books dealing with mental health issues, check out this list and this one.

If you are interested in purchasing a copy of Jack Kerouac is Dead to Me for yourself, you can find it on Amazon here.

Note: I received a free copy of this book in exchange for my honest review. The Literary Maven is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to amazon.com.

In Jack Kerouac is Dead to Me by Gae Polisner, the main character, JL, is struggling to navigate high school with a physically absent father and a mentally absent mother. She's dating a senior who everyone else has pegged as bad news (and spoiler, they aren't wrong) and the rift between her and her best friend continues to grow. Read on for more of my review and ideas for classroom application.

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