Yours, Jean

Written by Lee Martin
Review by Jessica Brockmole

The first day of school in 1952 seems full of promise for new school librarian Jean De Belle. Not only does the day mark the start of her career, but it also marks a fresh start in Lawrenceville, Illinois after a messy breakup with her fiancé Charlie. Little does she know that Charlie has followed her to Lawrenceville to convince her to take back his ring… or else. By the end of the day, someone is dead and the small town is reeling from the violence that shattered its peace. As those who encountered Charlie—the hotel clerk who rented Charlie a room, the cab driver who drove him to the high school, the girl who let him into the building, the boy who unwillingly became his getaway driver, the teacher who found Jean—prepare for the trial, they each struggle with their own problems. Life in Lawrenceville is not as peaceful as it seems.

Although inspired by a real crime, Yours, Jean is not a thriller. The murder is not the book’s inciting incident; rather it’s a foil to the small events and private struggles in the lives of those who witness it. Most of the book takes place in the weeks after, as those who knew Jean and crossed paths with Charlie reassess their relationships. As the title suggests, it’s, improbably, a story about love. Although Charlie’s twisted expectations of love begin the story, other characters deal with love in all of its forms—romantic, familial, yearning, platonic. Wrapped up in spare, effective writing and marvelous historical detail about the small-town Midwest of the 1950s, Yours, Jean is a quiet, compelling read. Highly recommended.