A Grown-Up Kind of Pretty
By Joshilyn Jackson
Grand Central ($24.99)

The number 13 strikes no fear in the hearts of the Slocumb women. For them, 15 spells doom.
That’s the age Ginny was when she gave birth to Liza. And the age Liza was when she had her own baby girl. Now that Mosey Slocumb is settling into her own 15th year, the fates clearly have their designs on the family again.

“I was turning 45, and that meant it was a trouble year,” Ginny recalls. “Every 15 years God flicks at us with one careless finger and we spin helplessly off into the darkness.”

Joshilyn Jackson’s compelling but sometimes frustrating fifth novel is part Southern Gothic mystery, part romance and part episode of Teen Moms. As the story begins, Liza — now sober after years of drug abuse — has suffered a stroke at age 30. Mosey is so burdened by the mistakes of the previous generations that she takes pregnancy tests obsessively (despite being chaste) and always finishes her homework early. She believes that she “would have to be perfect every second, or else she’d slip and land on her back only to stand up pregnant.”

Big, as Ginny is known, has given up any of her own dreams to help her daughter recover and see that her granddaughter turns out right. But when Ginny has her Mississippi back yard torn up to put in a pool for Liza’s therapy, the ground gives up a secret that’s been buried for 15 years and calls into question Mosey’s real identity. The search for answers drives the plot, sometimes a little too slowly.

Whose bones are under the tree? Who is Mosey? Is someone trying to do Liza harm? Will Ginny’s former policeman boyfriend keep her informed on the investigation — and maybe find his way back into her life, now that his marriage is about to end?

Ginny and Mosey strike out on their own quests for answers, each keeping the other in the dark, while Liza tries to break out of the darkness that keeps her secrets locked deep inside. Wild goose chases lead to dead ends, and whole chapters are devoted to theories that break down. But all the while, Jackson builds her characters and delves into histories that paint a full picture of the forces that created this family.

The author tells the story mostly from Ginny and Mosey’s point of view, switching between the 45-year-old’s twang and the teenager’s text-speak. Jackson seems more comfortable in Ginny’s mature voice; Mosey occasionally says clunky things like “it seemed really long-shotty to me, but I didn’t want to bust his happy.”

Jackson introduces some truly appalling villains as well as a handful of affable supporting characters. Unlike the mean, tempestuous heroine of her previous novel, “Backseat Saints,” the Slocumb women are easy to root for.

When the book’s mysteries are finally solved, the payoff isn’t in the genius of the plot but rather the possibility of some peace, finally, for these long-suffering women. At least for the next 15 years.

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