Jolie is Somewhere by Alana Cash is Book 13 in the #20BooksofSummer challenge

Content Warnings: short descriptions of violence (no gore or detail), possible religious intolerance (rare), flashbacks to prison setting, brief homelessness.

I’d have a hard time myself finding any of the above offensive, but I want to stick to my content warnings, like I promised. Today’s review is about the self-published novel Jolie is Somewhere by Alana Cash (you can Meet the Writer!). Technically, Jolie is Somewhere is a sequel, but you can read it without having read the first book, Saints in the Shadows, another self-published novel from 2014 that I reviewed and loved. Cash sent me her new novel because I had told her that if she ever wrote a follow-up, I wanted to read it.

saints

Jolie is Somewhere is about a young, attractive white woman from Oklahoma who moves to New York City (the reasoning isn’t clear to me, but NYC is a dream for many). There, she finds a roommate right away — her name is Electra. Jolie lands an opportunity to shoot a commercial, so to celebrate, she and Electra go out drinking. But having imbibed too much, Jolie pauses to throw up in an alley . . . when suddenly she feels someone trying to lift her skirt. So, to defend herself, she nails him in the thigh with her high-heeled foot, only to end up in prison. The man is a police officer, and Electra has failed to give her account of what really happened (was she jealous about Jolie’s commercial?). In prison, Jolie’s nose is broken by the inmate Axes, and the expensive lawyer her dad paid for never contacted her. Eight months later, Jolie is suddenly returned to the streets of NYC in the winter without a home or a clue. She sleeps in a dumpster where she is discovered by employees of a nearby coffee shop. This sets Jolie on a strange path on which she meets Lina, the psychic from the first book, Saints in the Shadows.

Lina meets big important clients in her home to do psychic readings, but she doesn’t charge them. Instead, they give her gifts or advice about the stock market, and sometimes money. She masquerades as “Madame Budska,” but she tells Jolie she isn’t really psychic. She reads body language to find out what a person wants her to tell them. She speaks in code and encourages her clients to do so as well. There are no crystal balls or elaborate drapery, but Lina does dress up as Madame Budska, which includes a wig and outfit. I’m never sure why she does this if there are no other theatrics. Based on Saints in the Shadows and Jolie is Somewhere, I gathered Lina is someone who takes in young women who need help, but it’s always in exchange for helping Lina. The help Jolie gives places her in settings that teach her about herself.

If you want to be a more empathetic person, Jolie is Somewhere makes you think more about the people around you. Deep down, Jolie wants the four people who let her down or hurt her to get their comeuppance. This isn’t a revenge tale, though, and she doesn’t want these four dead like we always see in movies. It’s empathy that helps Jolie let go of her deep anger, a lesson I need to work on continuously. I especially appreciated one comparison that shows racial, moral, and class division. Jolie, from a modest/poor family, remembers a serious boyfriend from a wealthy family whom she dated back in Oklahoma. She remembers how he wanted to study together and let her write his papers in college. They were together for two years, until they weren’t. Later, Jolie observes:

In jail, the women had talked about their boyfriends and husbands, even their pimps, and it wasn’t hard to make the link between their relationships and their incarceration. For their lovers, these women transported drugs and drug money. They concealed weapons in their apartments and lied to the police. They stole food and wrote back checks. And they took care of their babies while their men drank up or shot up the rent money.

Jolie’s memory of her old boyfriend using her juxtaposes the relationship women in prison had with the men in their lives, and I could see how Jolie judged those women, even though Jolie was knowingly being used, too — and likely subjected herself to it for similar reasons.

jolie

Not only does Jolie is Somewhere emphasize empathy, but it made me reconsider how I judge fictional characters. In Oklahoma, Jolie lived with her dad, a train engineer, because her mom divorced him, married a wealthier man, and had a son with the new husband. She basically tries to erase all traces of Jolie so as not to be embarrassed by her former life of near-poverty. The mother pops up throughout the novel to scrub out the existence of Jolie, and I kept thinking: Why is this woman working so hard to be a terrible person? I figured I was meant to hate her, even if she seemed over-the-top, but the more I considered the mother’s situation, the more I realized I know people who try to start new families and detach from old ones. That new family unit, and possibly the security that comes from it, can be shattered if folks from their “former life” keep reappearing. Me connecting some dots gave Jolie’s mother’s character more depth.

What I like most about Alana Cash’s two novels is that Lina’s presence makes things work out. The characters she encounters won’t always be happy, and sometimes they learn a hard lesson, but it works out. Since real life burns a lot, learning through a novel that things will be okay feels like learning how to trust again, and if there’s trust, there’s reason to go on. My only concern is that Lina is wealthy, so the books implies that those with wealth can or should fix those who do not have any. Bits of generosity with cash here and there didn’t bother me, but some big gestures — and lots of them at once — really stood out.

Overall, I recommend this book. Cash’s writing is “quiet,” but her main characters are easy to connect with, and Lina’s psychic abilities (are they real, or is she just reading body language?!) give the story a magical feel. I will caution you that since this is a self-published book, it doesn’t have the super clean editing that you find in traditionally published novels. There are also one or two very small details that contradict, which you could miss if you’re not paying close attention.

*I want to thank Alana Cash for sending me a copy of her book in exchange for an honest opinion. In an earlier version of this review I had accidentally titled the book Jolie is Everywhere. The correct name is Jolie is Somewhere.

20 books 2017
This is Book #13 of the #20BooksofSummer challenge, hosted by Cathy at 746Books.
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29 comments

  1. Sounds interesting. I like the aspect about reading body language. Many years ago when I was, I think, still in my teens a group of us went to a psychic for fun, and I was stunned at how well he told me, not what the future turned out to be, but what I wanted it to be at that time. I knew he knew nothing about me, not even my name, so (since I don’t believe in being able to tell the future or reading minds) I had to guess he was reading my body language and facial expressions. It was a strange experience…

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    • The book always makes me doubt whether Lina really is just reading body language or if she is magic! I never find out, so I guess I have to take her word for it. What did you want to be at the time, back when you were a teenager?

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      • Either a writer like Dickens, or the leader of a new political party which was to be called the World Unity Party! Then, of course, World Leader! I’m still working on it… 😉

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  2. My sister in law M, about whom I sometimes write, is self-publishing a book of economic philosophy, which is allowing me a good look at the mechanics of the whole thing. As it happens she is spending a huge amount of money and time on professional editing.

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  3. This sounds very interesting. It’s a shame when self-published authors don’t put resources into professional editing; however it is a major cost so I can see why they don’t. I feel a bit bad on the ROI when I work with a self-published author, but I know at least I am being fair with them, there are so many predators out there who promise, the world, charge the earth and deliver very little. I was lucky to have my latest self-published work checked by three academic friends (but I still let a typo creep in and had to hastily re-publish!!).

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  4. Wow– this sounds like quite a complicated book which really evoked a complicated response from your reading! I love it when books make us challenge who we are. For example, your reference above about judging Jolie’s mother at first and then modifying that idea. Or, when I read Janesville: An American Story and suddenly started understanding more about the motivations and reasoning behind cutting major social programs. Cash’s writing must be quite remarkable to invoke such thoughtful responses!

    It’s super cool that Cash sent you a copy of her new book because you expressed interest in such a thing. Have you had any other correspondence with her? I wonder if you inspired her in any way. 😀

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    • I have her on Facebook, but she’s not very active there. She was actually inspired by a true story for this book:

      “I sat in on the trial of three young men accused of assault on a police officer.  It was a 45-second fight outside a bar, and they were sentenced to 15 years which is the minimum mandatory sentence for gang assault.  Except they weren’t a gang.  They were just some kids who went to Catholic school together who met up outside a bar at 3 a.m. to wish each other Happy New Year.   But New York law says if three people are involved in a crime, that constitutes a gang.  One of the three didn’t even touch anyone – he was just standing there when the altercation started.  

      I was at the trial was because I was writing a novel with Louis Scarcella, a retired NYPD homicide detective.  You may have heard of Det. Scarcella because recently several of the convictions for his murder cases were reversed and so far that has cost the City of New York $31,000,000 in damages.  

      I combined what I knew from sitting in on the gang-assault trial with what I learned from Louis Scarcella as well as research on the jail culture at Rikers Island to write this novel asking myself, how does anyone get over their traumas in life. Jolie Is Somewhere starts out a bit depressing like Oliver Twist and ends up much better.”–from Alana Cash

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    • If I think about it, some people I know in real life do unbelievably horrible things without explanation. Last weekend I went to my breakfast place on Sunday and saw someone changed the sign out front to spell the N-word. Why? What’s the point? I sort of get it; Indiana is “conservative” (I call it unforgiving) and there city I’m in is very liberal Indiana. There must be disenfranchised racists around.

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  5. This sounds like a fascinating story. I’m glad you enjoyed it! I’m not sure if it’s something I would read–it may be too dark for my taste at the moment–but I try to support self-published authors when I can. I’ll definitely look into Cash’s work. Thanks!

    Liked by 1 person

  6. I LOVE that quote from the book. Omg. I want to look into this! I think it’s so important to have stories that make us feel more empathetic, especially in situations where we would normally think: “Oh, get revenge!’

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