Little Miss Strange

Joanna Rose, Author
Joanna Rose, Author Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill $20.95 (384p) ISBN 978-1-56512-154-6
Reviewed on: 12/30/1996
Release date: 01/01/1997
Paperback - 384 pages - 978-0-684-84741-2
Open Ebook - 380 pages - 978-1-61620-229-3
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Dropouts, drug addicts and immigrant storekeepers are Sarajean Henry's free-floating family as she grows from a young child into an adolescent in this perceptive and perfectly pitched debut novel. In Sarajean, Rose has created a narrator with an uncanny eye for the manners and mores of Denver's hippie demimonde in the 1970s. Sarajean perceives the world without judging it, and so she never questions why she's being raised by Jimmy Henry, a Vietnam vet who's now addicted to heroin, and she simply accepts that her mother ""just went away"" and no one knows where. She finds several surrogate mothers: Lady Jane, a former junkie who now wants to settle down with Jimmy Henry; Tina Blue, a mysterious neighbor who tells Sarajean, ""I have fled the dark heart of America and I am hiding""; and her best friend, Lalena Hand, who endlessly coaches her in the mysteries of their world (admonishing her, for instance, to say ""out of sight,"" rather than be ""cool""). The novel works precisely because of the quality and depth of Sarajean's observations. Near the end of the novel, when Sarajean begins delving into the secrets of her past, her search for answers is remarkably free of melodrama. She's much more interested in learning than in complaining. Lady Jane sums up the nonchalant charm of this novel when she asks Sarajean to tell her a story. ""`Everyone knows a story,' she said. `A story is just who you are at that particular moment.'"" Who Sarajean is at any moment is never less than fascinating. (Mar.)
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