April is National Poetry Month, so I thought I’d review one of my favorite genres: narrative poetry. I love how each poem can stand on it’s own, or strung together tell a larger story.
Told in free-verse poems, this short novel explores the feelings of a girl whose parents have been long divorced, hence the “42 miles” that JoEllen must commute between them both. JoEllen finds her father's move to the countryside tough to navigate, as she is forced to re-arrange her schedule around her divorced parents needs. "Joey" spends countryside weekends with her father cooking, exploring the outdoors and visiting her cousin. During the week, "Ellen" hangs with her friends, orders take-out and lives a totally hip, urban lifestyle. She feels split and conflicted over this. She misses seeing her pals on the weekends, she's tired of having to put on a brave face, and mostly, she's exhausted by the constant effort of censoring herself in front of her parents who each wish to see her as their own little girl, without the influence of the other parent.
Lacking a King Solomon figure to protect her, JoEllen decides to take a stand for herself. She insists that her parents call her by her own full name. She demands that her father respect her own social calendar by not claiming every weekend with her and that he create a more welcoming space for her in his farmhouse. She lets her mother know that she isn't willing to continue pretending to be someone else, or pretend that her father never existed. JoEllen explains her feelings this way, “Mom doesn’t see Joey./Dad rarely meets Ellen./And no one ever asked/if that’s fine, just fine/with me.”
The book is illustrated with various “found” objects and realia. Ephemera such as movie tickets, photographs, advertisements, recipes and ribbons make up a collage that symbolize JoEllen's pieced together life. I cheered for JoEllen when she finally felt empowered enough to stand up to her parents and the school bully, give herself a make-over, and invite both her city and countryside friends to her 13th birthday party.