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The Navi-Gator: a Gator's Guide to Library Resources

Recommended Fiction: The Heebie-Jeebie Girl by Susan Petrone

by Pamela Tarajcak on 2021-07-22T15:05:31-04:00 | Comments
Cover ArtThe Heebie-Jeebie Girl by Susan Petrone
Call Number: FIC PET
ISBN: 9781611882858
Publication Date: 2020-06-09

1977 was a challenging year for Youngstown.  Even though there were grumblings of it occurring, the “unexpected” shuttering of the largest steel mill, The Youngstown Sheet and Tube, in September, and a blizzard of epic proportions threw the city into turmoil.  The Heebie-Jeebie Girl by Susan Petrone explores this earth-shattering time in the city’s history. 

Three characters form the backbone of this story.  Joe, an older man in his 70s, starts the novel in a very positive frame of mind, until the combined incidents of the Mill closure, of his lotto-winning sister getting robbed-assaulted, and of the hardest winter on record darken his soul.  In the second third of the novel, the mill closure rips Bobby Wayland’s stable future from under him. A young man in his 20s, his pressing financial concerns, an upcoming wedding and no job market to speak of make his desperate times call for extreme desperate measures.  Joe’s great niece, little 7 year old Hope’s habit of predicting the daily numbers starts the whole plot moving, and her guilt and tender, innocent sense of justice spurs her Uncle’s quest to discover who did the deed and forms the action of the last third of the narrative.

Meanwhile, serving as a Greek Chorus, general conscience and general good sense of the novel is Youngstown herself, whose snide yet maternal voice give not only soul to the novel’s backbone characters but provides a poignant, cynical, yet hopeful voice for the “present” situations, the city’s rough past, and bleak-seeming future.

Though the characters may not be the most original.  Hope is any precocious child, though her wise-beyond her years sensibilities will crack you up.  Joe is an everyman but also the wise sage.  Bobby is any desperate yet unintelligent, unresourceful young man.   They feel real enough to know them.  The plot may not seem original, but through the twists and turns that occur, the plot becomes something new right before your eyes. 

But the voice and character you will most love is Youngstown herself.  Petrone writes Youngstown with an authentic voice and detail.  She knows almost every detail of her former hometown intimately, down to how different neighborhoods in the town look.  It truly feels as if Petrone’s written the “Great Youngstown Novel.”  There were only three inaccuracies.  First Petrone made a misnomer on a “Central” Youngstown location, which could be a misremembering on the author’s part.  The other two could have strained the credulity of non-native (read: non-Youngstown) readers.  She set a small scene at a wedding and forgot a Cookie Table.  What kind of Youngstown wedding or wedding attendee forgets a Cookie Table?  However, non-Youngstown readers could hardly believe such a wondrous, magical thing would exist.  The third was the fact that one of the characters felt stressed about a situation he need not be stressed about.  In Youngstown, there’s always a way even if that way would seem unorthodox in the rest of the outside world.

The Heebie-Jeebie Girl by Susan Petrone is a wonderful piece of fiction with just a little bit of magical realism.  The novel is delightful and the characters, though not memorable will be so real you’ll sort of wonder what they’re up to today.  However, what you truly want to read it for is for Youngstown and her voice.  If you want to understand Youngstown, this book is for you.  If you have left the town, but want a little bit of nostalgia, this book is for you.  If you live here, you will know her voice and feel her deep in your bones speaking to you throughout this book. 

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