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Reviewed by Viga Boland for Readers' Favorite
When I reflect on the style of the young adult novel Any Joe by Maura Lin, I envision a delicious dinner being prepared in a slow cooker. Why? Because special foods need time for all the rich flavors to fully blend and be enjoyed. So too, is the development of this beautiful story about Joe and Cherie, whose friendship began when both were very young, when life seemed so simple as long as you had parents who loved and nurtured you along the way. Then, of course, comes puberty with its often disruptive influencers and the resulting disturbances to fragile, developing psyches. Joe and Cherie each experienced events that didn’t seem particularly traumatic to them at the time…so subtle is the author’s presentation…but which prove to be life-changing in their later teen and adult years. As I suggested in my opening analogy, readers cannot come away from this delicious combination of familiar yet unique characters, settings, and situations, without being impressed by how much Joe and Cherie’s story of growing up resembles our own in some way or another. It’s so relatable it’s almost uncanny.
There is one aspect of the plot that will be of special interest and importance to today’s younger generation: the danger of chatting on the internet, and how good people can be drawn into a situation with life-altering results. We see the result of that when we meet the adult Joe in the opening chapter but it will take the novel’s passage of years to explain how he got there. It is at the end of the novel that we recognize that Joe could be any one of us. Hence the novel’s simple but deep title. One of the statements made about Cherie toward the end of the novel stays with me: “In her heart, at her most essential core, that overly tender part that empathizes with everyone, with everything — that core knows that any action is understandable if you know the story. But, is all forgivable?” Read Any Joe by Maura Lin. Know the story and decide on your answer to that question. Magnificent!