book review: Pizza Girl by Jean Kyoung Frazier
Overview: Jane is just out of high school, pregnant, and deeply, deeply lost. She has a supportive mom who loves her and an invested boyfriend she met at grief counseling for young people who've lost parents. While staunchly ignoring her pregnancy and still working through her confusing grief over her alcoholic father's death, Jane works at Eddie's pizza shop as a delivery driver, getting invested in the clients she crosses paths with as a means to escape from her old life. None of them matter as much, though, as Jenny, a middle aged mom who's fraying at the seams of her expected life. Despite the odds, Jenny and Jane bond with one another, though their relationship is a murky and strange one. Jane just needs a compass, a tether to the future, and that can be hard to find. Overall: 5
Characters: 5 This book is one of the magical moments where you're reminded of how lovely and comforting reading is. I have little in my life that's similar to Jane on paper outside of age, yet I immediately bonded with her and related to her voice. She's stuck in her life, unsure what the next step is. She's never really been sure, and her main tactic is to avoid and ignore even the most life altering happenings in her life. She's just trying to get through the individual days. As we progress through her repetitive days at work, we see how isolated she is, and the will to connect with someone who sees her as a blank slate makes her bond with Jenny makes sense. We also see Jane work through her feelings about losing her dad, which she initially brushed off because she'd been losing him to his alcoholism for years before. One of her biggest hurdles is grappling with how his identity will fit within her own.
The world of the book is pretty small. Jane lives with her mom who loves her deeply and simply wants the best for her and her boyfriend who lives with them and gave up his chance to go to USC to support her and the baby. He's far more excited about their budding family than she is, and he's also become closer to her mom since Jane's fallen into a depressive blur. I love how there's a little narrative baked in with her boyfriend about how important it is for everyone in a relationship to maintain their own lives, paths, and identities. You can't put your entire life on hold for the service of one thing, even if that feel like the noble thing to do. She feels disconnected from their outlook on life and they're both peace with the situation and ambition for the future.
There's a crew of people she works with at the pizza shop and a variety of people she delivers to that we learn about her outlook on the world through her keen observations of them. The descriptions of these people are absolute gems. Obviously, her obsession with Jenny takes center stage. And like with her family, Jenny exists mostly through the glimmers Jane sees of her and wants to see in her. She seems to be a frazzled mom who's trying her best but feels lost in how to do that in the same way Jane is. Though their relationship is strangely built and ultimately devastating, it's clear how Jenny offers an opening into her life and communicates to Jane that her life is more frayed than it truly is at its core. The way this reality unfolds on both sides of the narrative is fascinating to piece together.
Plot: 5 If you've read this blog, you know I'm not a plot person. Take it or leave it honestly. But I do think that this book has a lot more plot (despite what some Amazon reviews I read after finishing it said) than your average literary fiction book. While Jane wanders for the first few chapters (which is necessary to fully grasp the significance with this perceived bond with Jenny), once her obsession kicks in, there's a clear, escalating focus that tracks through the rest of the narrative. Though most of what propelled me through the book was the impeccable writing, I do think there's plenty of plot unfolding here. I didn't want to put it down and stayed up way too late to finish it, not just because I was loving the prose but because I needed to know what would happen next.
Writing: 5 The writing, the writing, the writing. Absolutely incredible. I want to hang out with Jane forever. She's a bit cynical and sarcastic but she's also earnest and so thoughtful and contemplative underneath. The way she describes the world spoke to me deeply, and I found myself dragging my finger along my Kindle screen every few pages to keep track of amazing lines. It's well written and profound without ever crossing into a territory that could be accused of being pretentious. It has all of the coming of age worries and motives through the eyes of a teen protagonist but plays them in an entirely different way than YA. In many ways, this story is a sad one, but there's so much hope that the reader is allowed to hold onto without feeling foolish, and there's so many nuanced layers to unpack in these brief 200 pages.
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