Guest Review: Between Mom and Jo

This review was written by Isaiah Vianese. Isaiah is a poet and writing instructor in New York. You can read his blog and some of his poetry here.

Between Mom and Jo by Julie Ann Peters is one of those heart-wrenching books that it is difficult to convince your friends to read; this is to say, of course, the book is worth reading. Told from the perspective of Nick, a fourteen-year-old boy whose moms separate, the novel is about how the choices we make effect those we love. When Nick’s mothers, Erin and Jo, break up, he is caught in the aftermath. Because Jo never officially adopted Nick, he is forced to live with his birthmother, Erin, and her new partner. Nick hates this arrangement, and longs to live with Jo, with whom he has a stronger relationship.

Peters’ novel is character-driven, focusing on Nick’s decent into depression. The more Erin forces him to stay with her, the more numb and violent he becomes. His depression would be easy to blame on Erin, except the reader can easily understand her hardships. When Nick hurts, she hurts. Jo, the mother he longs for, is both likeable and flawed. And—the real kicker—all of these characters have a deep affection for one another.

This is not a novel about simple answers. In fact, it is not about answers at all. This is a book about how when relationships fail, everyone is hurt, but everyone also has the right to find happiness. Fortunately, this is ultimately a book about compromise, and that understanding comes in untidy but manageable packages. Nick is a compelling narrator full of anguish, and one cannot help but feel propelled by his desire to be heard. This novel gives him a voice, and perhaps gives voice to any teenager that feels compromised by their parents’ choices. Between Mom and Jo is sophisticated and smart, showing us that separation and love are not exclusive conditions.

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