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“Looking for JJ”: Anne Cassidy reminds us that not everything is as it seems

Anne Cassidy’s Looking for JJ is one of the most brilliant yet disturbing novels I have read to date. It’s a clever story that reminds us that not everything is at it seems. Cassidy explores the interesting topic of a juvenile offender attempting to integrate into society in a way that forces us to confront and question our own attitudes to contemporary issues.

In Looking for JJ, Cassidy uses literary tapestry to weave together a story that haunt you and leave a lasting impression, but for all the right reasons.

Three children walked away from the cottages on the edge of town toward Berwick Waters. Later that day, only two of them came back. Alice Tully knows exactly what happened that spring day six years ago, though it’s still hard for her to believe it. She’ll never be able to forget, even though she’s trying to lead a normal life—she has a job, friends, and a boyfriend whom she adores. But Alice’s past is dangerous, and violent, and sad… and it’s about to rip her new life apart.

A gripping and emotionally searing novel by accomplished British author Anne Cassidy, Looking for JJ infuses a terrifying subject with humanity and hope.

Looking for JJ was recommended to me to read by a friend. I had never read any of Cassidy’s books before, so I didn’t know what exactly to expect, but it completely blew me away. It left me feeling a little bit unsettled – since it raises more questions than answers – but not in a bad way. More in a way that makes you look at things differently, as though as if you found yourself on the other side of the line straddling good and evil and you can’t quite work out how you got there.

Cassidy explores a range of themes with this novel, and questions so many things about our everyday life, from the ethics of tabloid journalism to the outcome of ineffectual parenting. But the thing that makes this story really interesting is it’s message. Looking for JJ is a really sad novel about redemption and forgiveness and how the good and the bad guys are not so clearly defined in real life situations.

We see everything that happens to JJ through her eyes as she tells her story, and although you feel her anger on the day when only two girls returned home, you also feel her sorrow, her loss, her burning desire to make and keep friends and for once not to have someone walk away or treat her as unimportant. A lot of things in her past and in her childhood lead her to have the feelings and emotions that she does.

Even when she is older, and becomes Alice, the girl she attempts to return to society as, she is still fragile as a person, and like everyone else – only in a much larger way – is living with the burden of her past. That’s the thing with the way Cassidy writes this story. It shocks you. First with the plot and the content, then secondly, and more importantly, at the way it makes you feel about JJ herself.

Alice, however, can’t seem to wrap her head around what happened. Cassidy writes:

“In the past six months, though, she had read as much as she could get her hands on, and the question that lay under every word that had ever been printed was the same. How could a ten-year-old girl kill another child?”

– Anne Cassidy, Looking for JJ

Alice becomes obsessed with reading every article and essay about Jennifer Jones and her crime. The question here only emphasises the murky nature of innocence, guilt, and forgiveness. Alice is portrayed as troubled but not as fundamentally evil as the description of ‘child killer’ might suggest.

As I said, Cassidy makes us question our own attitudes about issues we previously would have been solidly on one side or the other of right and wrong, because in real life that line can look incredibly blurry.

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