Jenna Zark’s (author of A Body of Water) 2013 publication taught me more about the Beat Generation, Beatniks of the 1950s, and especially about “Beat Poetry” than I learned in an undergraduate class on Modern Poetry, which explored the subject. It is a fine book told from the point of Ruby, an eleven-going-on-twelve year old girl who lives in The Village in New York. She seems to be a “typical”pre-teen who has a “typical” cat, Solange. Her mother, Nell, aka “Little Nell” is an artist, and her father, Gerard, aka “Gary-Daddy-O” is often on the road, playing bass. As Ruby tells us about The Beat Generation, “When it first started, it was about people who were” beat up and fed up by the”System”, aka “The Man.” Ruby had been making up poems by age four and writing them down by age seven. Her idol is Jack Kerouac, whom she describes is “…not a poet but writes like one.”
Ruby has a fourteen year old brother,Ray, who plays sax and often substitutes with his dad’s band, earning the adults’ respect and admiration for his playing skills. When Ruby gets in trouble on the “street,” she is sent to the police station, and Mrs. Levitt, a social worker steps in, setting in motion an investigation into her unmarried parents and her “home environment.” What follows in the story leads to Ruby becoming involved in a hunger strike at a children’s home in Brooklyn, where she is aided and abetted by her new friend, Manuela.
As she approaches her twelfth birthday day, she could never have imagined the changes in her life, attitude, and maturity or how things could change so quickly. Through it all, she has her poetry (quite good, and interspersed throughout the novel) to sustain her and comes to the conclusion that “Poetry isn’t really good for anything except it makes you feel better.” Although the book explores the angst of “typical teen” misunderstanding and feelings that friends (and parents) don’t understand, Ruby, street-smart and talented, is NOT a typical teen in a time and era definitely not “typical” either.
The author supplies questions for discussions suitable for book clubs, junior high English and history classes and anyone interested in the literary contributions to American literature from the “Beat Poets/Generation.”