I received Jesse’s Girl by Gary Morgenstein for review yesterday. While I was intrigued, I wasn’t particularly hopeful that it was going to be much of a page-turner. Was I ever wrong. I really got into the story from the very beginning. As I come from a family that has had its own issues with addiction and chemical dependence, it is possible that I was able to better relate to the characters in this novel, thus making it more real to me.
The premise of the book centers on Teddy Mentor and his sixteen year old adopted son, Jesse. Jesse has been sent away to a wilderness program in rural Montana in a last ditch effort to put an end to the drug problems that have plagued him for years. The problems escalated after the death of his adopted mother (and Teddy’s soon to be ex wife), and had reached a point where Teddy had to admit he was incapable of controlling or protecting his child. With nowhere else to turn, he entrusts his only child to the professionals at the Mountain Wilderness Center.
Big mistake. Not two weeks later he gets a 1AM phone call. His son is missing. Risking his job, he books a flight away from Brooklyn and towards his son. After a couple days of searching, he gets the break he needs and tracks his son to a bus stop in Illinois, en route to Kentucky to meet his long-lost birth sister (whom Jesse leads Teddy to believe is his long-distance girlfriend). Jesse swears up and down that he is done with the drugs; in that convincing way all users seem to have. However, it isn’t long before Teddy notices that he is missing some of his antidepressants and that his son occasionally reeks of beer. Jesse’s lies come to a head when he OD’s on heroin in the middle of the night while sharing a hotel room with his dad.
Torn between institutionalizing Jesse for his own good and joining him on his trek to meet his ‘girlfriend’, Teddy relents and the two continue on to Kentucky. When they arrive at Theresa’s, they are introduced to her ‘brother’ Beau. Beau is actually Theresa’s abusive husband, and within a few hours he and Jesse get into a particularly brutal altercation that ends with Jesse stabbing him. This unintentional act of violence spurs a run from the law that leads Teddy and Jesse into the heart of Jesse’s birth family. It also forces the two to address the issues that have destroyed their relationship.
Jesse’s Girl was a very unexpected read. I thoroughly enjoyed it from beginning to end. Not only was it an emotional family drama, it was also full of action and even (a little) romance. I easily give it five stars.