Must-read: A Grown-Up Kind of Pretty by Joshilyn Jackson

Jan 16, 2012 at 4:09 p.m. ET

Trouble comes every 15 years for the Slocum women. It all started with Big’s own pregnancy at 15. This is the premise of this must-read novel by Joshilyn Jackson.

Liza wasn't an easy baby or an easy child; perhaps an older or more experienced woman could have handled her better, but since Big was a child herself, Liza got away, turning to drugs and sex. When Liza was 15, the wild child had a baby of her own, and Big became a 30-year-old grandma. Even worse, before the end of the year, Liza and the unnamed baby disappeared, leaving Big to wonder just what sort of environment her grandbaby was being exposed to.

Liza and the baby, now named Mosey, came back eventually, and since then things have been pretty good, even if Liza is still a bit wild. Another 15 years have passed, though, and Big is terrified of what trouble might come this time around. Liza had a stroke at the end of the school year and as horrible as it may seem, the family has to hope that this is the extent of the sorrow awaiting them. Mosey is nothing like Liza; she is unlikely to become pregnant now. Something huge is still heading for them, though.

It happens when Big hires someone to take out the willow tree in the backyard -- Liza's beloved willow. Rehabilitation work in the pool helped Liza improve after her stroke, but Medicaid won't cover her anymore. If Big wants a pool to try to bring her daughter back to her, she needs to build one herself. Even so, she should never have touched that tree. Right at the roots of the willow, the contractor digs up a little box, a box filled with a baby's bones and a pretty little dress. Big recognizes the dress immediately. It is the one her grandbaby was wearing the last time she saw her, before Liza and the baby disappeared. But if the bones belong to Liza's daughter, who is Mosey and where did she come from?

At the center of A Grown-Up Kind of Pretty is the question of identity and what exactly it takes to make a family. Mosey and Big react in different ways to finding out that they are not related, but never does this negate their 13 years of shared history -- although initially Mosey worries that Big will feel differently about her once she learns that Mosey is not actually her granddaughter. Although there is a strong element of mystery and uncertainty in the plot, A Grown-Up Kind of Pretty is at its heart a family drama.

A Grown-Up Kind of Pretty is a compelling read about the intricacies of family life and what it is that keeps people together. Jackson writes with strength and with great sympathy for her characters. Mosey is an authentic 15-year-old, which can occasionally be slightly annoying, but brings an increased sense of reality and thus increased emotion to the Slocum family's story. This is a book you won't want to put down.