Goodreads ~ Jo Joe is a mystery of the heart about Judith Ormond, a young mixed race Jewish woman.
Seventeen years earlier, violence and hatred had driven her away from the small Pocono Mountains village where she was raised by her white Christian grandparents. Now with the death of her beloved grandmother, she must reluctantly break her vow to never return to the town she learned to hate.
During the one week visit, she’s forced to deal with the white boy who cruelly broke her heart and is menaced by an old enemy who threatens new brutalities. But with her traumatic discovery of a long-buried secret, Judith finds more questions than answers about the bigotry that scarred her childhood.
Judith's dad is a black Jew from Paris and her mom was a white Christian from Pennsylvania. When her parents split up, Judith and her mom move to the Manhattan (from Paris). When her mom dies, Judith is a young teenager and moves to Black Bear, PA, to live with her grandparents on their farm. Judith is different from the other residents because she is black and Jewish and gets picked on by the other kids. One of her schoolmates, Joe, protects her and they become best friends (he nicknames her "Jo"). One day, though, Joe turns on her and she has no idea why. Her grandmother sends her back to Paris when school is over, making her promise she'll never return to Black Bear.
Seventeen years later, Judith is running an organization that helps women in Africa Her grandmother has died and she turns home for a week to settle the estate (her grandfather has since died). While she discovers some of the old prejudices still exist, the town has progressed that's in part to her grandmother. She's shocked to discover that her grandmother has left Joe and his family a large part of the estate so fights it. She spends the week packing up the house, deciding what to send back to Paris and what to get rid of so she can sell the farm as quickly as possible.
This is the first book I've read by this author and I enjoyed it.
The story was interesting. Judith had a lot of adversaries because of who/what she was but she had a solid support system with her grandparents and Joe (until he abandoned her). As an adult, despite her success, she still carried the old hurts within her ... she wanted to dispose of the estate and leave town, never to return. At times, it was focused on Jewish traditions which I found interesting since I don't know much about that faith ... it gave Judith comfort.
I liked the writing style. The chapters represent every day Judith was in Black Bear. It is written in first person in Judith's voice. I found that the writing was well-paced and flowed well. It kept me wanting to read more. It dips back and forth from the present to the past. As a head's up, some of the language and activity are for mature readers.
I liked the characters. Though Judith has some good memories, the majority of memories aren't. She wants to show everyone that she isn't the teenager everyone picked on so puts up a strong front. She thought it would be easy to pack up the estate and then get back to her life. She hadn't counted on getting pulled into the past. Joe is now married with kids and wants to be Judith's friend ... but she'll have none of it because she thinks he took advantage of her grandmother in her later years. Judith makes new friends with residents who weren't there when she was growing up like Rabbi David and his wife, Rebecca.
Click here to read the first chapter (go check it out!).
I'd recommend this book and would like to read more by this author.