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Book Review: Jeraline’s Alley by Becca Smith

Often, fear drives us to act; whether that action is good or bad is up for debate, but it is up to us to decide how to react to it. Becca Smith explores this idea in her novel, Jeraline’s Alley, she interweaves themes of fear of loss and rejection throughout the story. Smith tells her story from the perspective of Jeraline Arnold, a twenty-two-year-old woman whose home and the bookstore where she works represent her safe haven. The alley, however, terrifies Jezebel because it embodies all her social fears; and, it is outside that exact alley where her life becomes twisted when she is attacked, leading her to shoot the attacker with the gun her grandmother gave her for protection. Now, she is not only running from her life, but also from the hallucinations that result from her shooting her attacker.

It’s odd to say, but the way Becca writes her novel is refreshing; her unique writing style is unique, and the way she portrays her story and characters doesn’t emanate fear, but rather renewal. Although it is a story about Jeraline possibly killing someone, it takes a different approach as it is used as a steppingstone for her to start living life again and not to be in fear of it. At the beginning, Jeraline says, “I was too scared to put myself out there. It might be worth it, but it might not, and I didn’t want to take the risk,” and I think we all, no matter the season of life that we are in, are fearful of taking those risks, of moving forward in life. The fear of rejection, loss, or change is this unchanging quality of being human. It’s overcoming those fears that helps us move forward, and it is the journey Jeraline goes on, alongside several other characters in the story.

Changing your life, even your perspective, is always easier to say than it is to do. Each character introduced represents a different version of being unwilling, or having the inability, to change their life: her grandmother losing out on love; Rachel, her boss, never leaving the bookstore; Hank losing everything and becoming homeless. Each one of these character's are representations of different places to be stuck in life, and it is not until they start overcoming these obstacles that they are able to start living again.

We all have our different ways of coping with fear and rejection. For Jeraline, it happens to be consulting different book characters, whether she wants to or not. Jeraline says, “But characters in books were easier to connect with than real people. Real people let you down. Real people could leave. Real people could die,” and that fear of connection keeps her from changing and gives her a way to cope with her reality through talking to and receiving advice from different book characters. Although Jeraline talks to different characters, she is aware that it’s her own consciousness: “I knew she was right, hence why I was imagining her.” These characters share advice that pertains to their own stories, and sometimes are in conflict with one another, just like our own thoughts.

Each person has their own place or object that their own fear is projected onto, whether it is directly or indirectly. Jeraline projected all of her fears onto the alley. “It was as if all the torment in my life had manifested itself into this one alley, the physical embodiment of every fear I had.” The alley took on the expectations and its own social role within the story, forming it into its own character, living and breathing alongside the other characters. It’s characterized by turning “red to black” and haunted by the sounds of inhuman, animalistic noises. This characterization draws the reader into the scene to connect with Jeraline, coming to understand the haunted creepiness of the alley and its ability to suck any innocent victim into its depths.

It’s important to note that, throughout the story, Jeraline is giving commentary about the situations she falls into and her reactions, creating this space of interaction with her audience. While Smith does write with intention of interaction, at times the line becomes blurred between Jeraline giving commentary to the audience and talking to herself. There are times where she directly reflects, like a detachment from the situation, and other times where she is plagued by her own thoughts. With the lack of secure perspective, it creates this sense of confusion from the beginning, and combined with the slow pacing, it gets harder to continue reading. However, it by no means takes away from the character development and storyline that are the central point and foundation of the story. And while the story can become predictable at times, it does send a heartwarming message about not living in fear of change or life itself.

There are always times of fear, but Smith reveals that merging fear into the core of your existence is no way to live. Rachel says, “Living in a constant state of fear isn’t living,” and it’s true. By allowing fear to take over, you allow your life to be consumed by it and live everyday guided by that fear, which will stop you from living a meaningful life. Smith tackles this idea of living an unchanging life because of a fear that every human being holds onto. And while this fear can be protection from hurt, it also distances you from opportunities in your life, taking you captive by it’s claws. It’s a story of inspiration and love to all those who read it, and will hopefully continue this message for a long time.

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