This Is Not the Jess Show

Cover image of the book "This Is Not the Jess Show."

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Book Review

Jess Flynn is a typical teen in the ‘90s who just wants to make it through her junior year without any drama. Admittedly, her life is always a blend of odd little disasters. This year, however, some really odd things are happening. Jess begins noticing all sorts of little things that shouldn’t be: weird occurrences and strange discussions that people don’t want her to see or hear. And she can’t help wondering … is my life real?

Plot Summary

It’s 1998: the movie Titanic just won 6 Oscars, Ally McBeal is on TV, and Chumbawamba is tub-thumping on the radio. Oh, and 17-year-old Jess Flynn is in her junior year of high school, hoping for a year with a little less drama.

The problem is, Jess’ life is always filled with drama. It feels as if every year there’s some kind of unexpected and, many times, oddly disastrous thing swirling around in her story. For instance, her family has survived a tornado; her house was robbed; her beloved sister, Sara, came down with a completely out-of-the-blue, horrible illness. So Jess often feels like her life is like a bad movie script. And she’s the plucky, quirky teen heroine right out of central casting.

But this year, there are even odder things happening. And that doesn’t even include the crush Jess is feeling for her childhood best friend, Tyler. I mean, that’s odd in its own way, too. But it’s a good odd as far as Jess is concerned. She likes the funny, sweaty feelings she gets when their hands accidentally touch and when Tyler says things that sound almost like he’s flirting.

Is he flirting?!

Anyway, it’s the other odd things that have Jess worried. For instance, she’s been hearing these indistinct chanting voices sometimes. And Amber, one of her closest friends, dropped something strange-looking the other day. She said she found it in her father’s briefcase: a device made out of metal and glass that had a logo of an apple with a bite out of it printed on the metal side. And when Jess started asking questions, Amber and Kristen—Jess’ other good friend—got all nervous and quickly walked away.

Oh, and how about this for odd: Jess just discovered that her dog was replaced with a look-alike. She knows what her dog looks like, and this wasn’t it. But even her parents got twitchy and nervous over this observation. And now that Jess has started looking for odd things, she’s finding all sorts of tiny changes and weird occurrences that shouldn’t be

As she starts adding things up, watching people around her more closely, and remembering stuff that now seems to have a new meaning, Jess can’t help but wonder if everything in her life is something other than what she always thought it was.

Is her life even real?

Christian Beliefs

None.

Other Belief Systems

None.

Authority Roles

Jess’ parents appear solid on the surface. But we find out through the course of the story that they aren’t who they seem to be. Without giving too much away, I’ll say that her parents turn out to be focused on making choices that enrich them without Jess’ knowledge. And in the end, they’re willing to cast her aside for their own selfish reasons.

Other adults in Jess’ life are equally deceptive and selfish. In fact, just about everyone whom Jess looks up to, including friends and teachers, turns out to be duplicitous by the story’s conclusion.

(There are, however, a few who put everything on the line to help Jess through her struggles. They give Jess the love and support she needs.)

Profanity & Violence

There are a couple exclamations of the f-word and several uses of the s-word through out the book, along with a single use each of the word “b–ch” and the phrase “oh my god.” Jesus’ name is misused once.

Jess slips off to some parties with her teen friends. And some kids at those parties appear tipsy or very drunk. Jess mentions smelling a “bong” on someone’s breath. Jess also mentions that she had tried alcohol several times, but it never affected her. (We find out that there’s a very specific reason for this.) Later, however, she drinks a beer that does have a “relaxing” effect on her. She notes “It wasn’t so bad, this drinking thing.” We also hear of a father who drank a lot after losing his job.

Jess’ sister, Sara, is diagnosed with something called Guignard’s Disease, which eventually appears to leave her in a coma and hovering on the brink between life and death There are perilous moments in the story mix when people are chasing Jess in vehicles. She nearly drowns after a car crash into a small lake. Someone suggests that a certain group may have killed a man and that they hire ex-military to use as security personnel.

Sexual Content

Jess kisses two different boys. Both kisses give her pleasant, fluttery feelings that she describes. But one encounter leads to much more of a make-out session with light caressing that lasts several minutes before the pair breaks it off.

Jess gives a set of her CDs to her ailing sister, then states that she had to tell the younger girl what the Alanis Morrisette lyrics, “wine, dine and 69” meant. Jess also talks about one her friend’s habit of not wearing a top in the locker room so she could flaunt her “big boobs.”

Discussion Topics

Get free discussion questions for other books at FocusOnTheFamily.com/discuss-books.

Jess’ situation is unique in some ways, but are there any parts of her teen experience that resonated with you? Do you ever feel like people are talking behind your back? How do you deal with that? Do you have good friends whom you trust and can talk to?

What do you think this book is saying about media and social media? Are there any real-world parallels you can draw to this story? Do you think that people can appear one way “for the camera,” but really be quite different in reality? How can you tell the difference when just watching someone online? How do you tell the difference in your daily life?

Additional Comments

[Spoiler Warning] This is a new YA take on an idea explored in the 1998 movie The Truman Show. It’s creative and compelling, and it raises light questions about the role of screens and the ever-watching social media eye in our current world. But there is some language here that might make it a bit harsh for younger readers.

You can request a review of a title you can’t find at [email protected].

Book reviews cover the content, themes and worldviews of fiction books, not necessarily their literary merit, and equip parents to decide whether a book is appropriate for their children. The inclusion of a book’s review does not constitute an endorsement by Focus on the Family.

Review by Bob Hoose

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