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Review of The Existence of Pity by Jeannie Zokan

See full issue for 2017 07-24
by Candi Sary

The Rundown

The Existence of Pity is a coming-of-age novel set in Cali, Colombia. Josie is the daughter of Baptist missionaries living in the South American city trying to convert the native Catholics. Her parents are rigid in their beliefs, as are all of the people in their small, tightknit Baptist community. At sixteen, Josie begins to open her mind to new ideas that conflict with her parents. Blanca, the family’s maid, shares some intriguing aspects of Catholicism that really speak to Josie but she must keep her exploration secret. Then her free-spirited Aunt Rosie shows up for a visit and Josie’s thinking expands even more. With a new boyfriend that she also keeps from her parents, Josie begins to discover her own identity until shocking family secrets are uncovered. As the sins of her righteous family are revealed, Josie has even more reason to find her own truth.

Zokan brings Cali, Colombia to life with her beautiful descriptions and revealing details that clearly show she knows the area well. The storyline is intriguing as Josie slowly breaks from the beliefs her parents moved to Columbia to promote. It’s not a rebellious kind of break where she throws out all the old beliefs and clings to something brand new. It’s more subtle and realistic—a gentle coming into one’s own and thinking for oneself. Controversial issues are explored, but the beauty of this novel is that it maintains an innocence and optimism that is refreshing. Josie exemplifies a teenage experience, one with questioning and experimenting, yet one where she doesn’t lose character or dignity. She is bold but not careless. While the novel doesn’t have the excitement of a rebelling teen, it does have an intelligent and thoughtful protagonist. The story’s drama comes in as Josie navigates her way through the foolish mistakes of her family.



The Recommendation

The Existence of Pity will appeal to young adults as well as adults. Well-written and thought provoking, it’s the kind of novel that will have readers thinking about Josie’s dilemmas even after they’ve completed the book. It is rather tame compared to the more strident YA novels out there—no mean girls, teenage promiscuity or intense parties. Readers looking for that kind of enticement won’t find it in this novel. What they will find is a sixteen-year-old’s thoughtful search for her own identity in a conflicting and sometimes hypocritical world.

The Rating Reviewer Rating: 4.5 Stars

4.5 Stars (out of 5): Highly recommended. This book is a great read. It can hold its own against any traditionally published novel in its genre, and surpasses many.

The Pros & Cons

Pros: Characterization, Dialogue, Prose
Cons: Slow in Places

The Links

More about The Existence of Pity on UBR

The Reviewer

Candi Sary

Candi Sary is the author of Black Crow White Lie, a shortlist finalist in the William Faulkner William Wisdom Writing Competition and semifinalist in the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award. Sary lives in coastal Southern California with her husband and three dogs now that her kids are grown. She can often be found surfing and paddle boarding in the waters of Newport Beach.

Visit Candi Sary‘s website.

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