Jemima J by Jane Green
(Broadway Books, $19.95, PG-13) ISBN 0-7679-0517-2
***
Jemima J is a classic ugly duckling story for the Internet age. Jemima Jones is a staffer at the Kilburn Herald, a small London newspaper. Jemima eats her way through her frustrations. Her flatmates treat her like a maid. Her longing for handsome Ben Williams, star reporter for the Herald, is unrequited. She's passed over for better assignments in favor of her beautiful (and slim) coworker, Geraldine, whose condescension knows no bounds. When we meet Jemima, she's nearly a hundred pounds overweight and feeling trapped inside her life.

Then her office goes online, Jemima meets a Californian named Brad in an Internet chat room, and everything begins to change. Jemima invents a new personality for herself. Gone is the dumpy writer of household hints columns. Online, she's "JJ", a slim, hip, glamorous woman. When Brad presses her to visit, Jemima decides to make the change a real one.

Surprisingly, it's Geraldine who supports her efforts. Ben has moved on to a television news spot, so Jemima focuses on becoming slim and gorgeous. The pounds drop away. Soon she's on a plane to Los Angeles, ready to meet Brad, who owns a gym and is every bit as gorgeous as his photo suggests. He's the perfect, perfect man for her new life.

Except there are niggling doubts, unexplained absences, and Jemima is in for a few nasty surprises before she reaches her happily-ever-after.

Jemima J is told in varying first person and third-person format, which immerses the reader and allows observation by turns. Jemima as a character is funny, honest, insecure, afraid that the world will see her fat-girl persona even though her exterior now screams "thin!" Her journey to a bit of self-understanding will strike a chord with many readers.

Ultimately, though, it's a pretty thin understanding. The message here was perhaps meant to be one of finding one's self-worth no matter what body you're stuck with, or maybe that true love sees the person inside. If so, it fell flat. Jemima at the end finds love, but it's a love based on "Oh, god, he's gorgeous" and "You're so beautiful." There was no deep understanding, no basic friendship, no acceptance of anything other than exterior beauty. Let's hope it was meant as irony..

In fact, it's the character of Brad who ends up generating the most respect. Without giving away the ending, let's say that he, at least, refuses to give up on love no matter the pressure on him to do so for the sake of looks.

Jemima J will entertain you and make you laugh. Just don't expect to find an uplifting message here. In the end, a slim figure and a pretty face are the road to romance. And that's a message a lot of women can do without.

--Cathy Sova


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