Can the Real JR Stand Up Please


Publication Date: 28 Sep. 2021
Format: Paperback / softback

ISBN 9781913680176

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    When Jake Rollins isn’t worrying about his dad going ape-sh*t, he’s busy creating out-of-this-world manga and hanging out with his best mate.

    Jake and his mum spend their lives dodging Jake’s dad’s fists, but it’s the last year of high school and Jake has the perfect plan to escape home. All he has to do is nab a scholarship to Tokyo where he’ll learn how to be a professional manga artist. But before then, Jake has to navigate his final year of high school, and keep himself, his mum and their dog alive.

    Baba Ami may look like an ordinary Australian Terrier but she’s more like Jake’s spiritual guide. She’s got tons of wisdom, plus she talks, but the only person who can hear her is Jake. She’s not the only surprising thing about Jake’s life—his anime hero, Takehiko sometimes inexplicably comes to life. He’s Jake’s role model for friendship, bravery and being true to yourself.

    And let’s face it, Jake needs all the help he can get when he ends up complicating his life by kissing his best friend, Phee and getting in with Clay Perez, the local graffiti artist who is always in trouble with the police.

    Jake’s life takes a turn for the worst when he’s arrested after Clay Perez dobs him in. When his dad throws him out of the house, he ends up being a homeless teenager with nowhere to go. Thank goodness for best friends. Life gets even more complicated when Jake’s portrait of his dad ends up in the local paper. It will be a miracle if they don’t all end up dead like Jake’s little sister, Katie.

    This is a story of survival, resurgence, and what it means to be bigger than where you come from. With themes of friendship, coming-of-age, family abuse, survival, creativity, courage and diversity, Can the Real JR Stand Up, Please? is a warm-hearted hopeful story about being true to yourself and learning to be brave.

    Information

    Book Type:
    Age Group: 16 years +
    Traffic Lights:
    Class Novel: No
    Good Reads Rating: 3.5/5
    Literary Rating: 3.5/5

    Review

    JR’s father has always been controlling and physically violent, but since his sister died of myocarditis at the age of seven, the situation has deteriorated.  JR wishes that he could stand up to his father and stop him from hurting his mum, but he’s not that brave.

    His hero—an anime character called Takehiko—appears to him at his lowest moments to give him the strength he needs to continue, and his dog Baba Ami is always offering words of wisdom, but JR is stuck in a terrible situation with no way to escape. His mum is grieving her daughter and terrified for JR, but she isn’t allowed to go to therapy. Instead, she follows the teachings of Yogi Baba Amita Zaman and makes an endless array of healthy juices for JR, in the hopes of keeping him healthy.

    There are two light points in JR’s life: manga and his best friend Phee. Drawing and reading manga helps JR to escape his horrible reality, but Phee makes his life better. It seems that spending time with Phee and her mothers, Margot and Charvi, is the only thing that gives JR stability and comfort. Then Charvi gets the idea for JR to apply for a scholarship to Tokyo Polytechnic, where he could study Japanese and Manga. It seems like a dream come true, but it would mean leaving his mother behind with his father. At the same time, Phee asks Jake to kiss her so she can put the footage in a student film. Another bittersweet dream come true—he’s had feelings for Phee forever, and the kiss was amazing, but now everything is awkward.

    Into JR’s tumultuous life strolls Clay, a local graffiti artist who JR admires greatly. Clay and JR graffiti together, but Clay is bad news—he posts footage of JR graffiti-ing that could get him arrested. And then JR paints Takehiko, his hero. Unfortunately, Clay feels that Takehiko is his to paint and doesn’t appreciate JR stepping on his figurative turf. He snitches on JR to the police, and it’s only JR’s clean record that gets him out of being arrested.

    His father takes it well, simply saying that it’s time for JR to give up art—an impossible ultimatum. When JR’s dad hits his mum again, JR stands up to him. Unfortunately, bravery isn’t enough, and JR’s dad beats him within an inch of his life and kicks him out. In the carpark near Charvi’s dental clinic, Clay and his mates find JR and beat him again.

    JR moves in with Phee, Margot, and Charvi. As horrible as this experience has been, things are looking up—his application to Tokyo Polytechnic is accepted, JR and Phee get together, and he finally has a stable home environment. But then JR’s portrait of his father, which he was forced to put in an art show as part of his final Art grade, is featured in the paper. JR knows that his father’s fury will be uncontrollable. They get JR’s mum out of the house and discuss next steps—she may join Baba Amita Zaman’s ashram.

    Just when JR thinks everything is falling into place, he suffers a last betrayal. Phee, concerned about the way he represses his feelings, makes a student film about his sister’s death and displays it at the art show. JR sees this as a fundamental misunderstanding of his character and needs and can’t believe that she would do something like that without talking to him about it. Their relationship doesn’t recover, but they talk it out and finish Grade 12 as friends, hopeful for their futures overseas.

    A surprising entry into the Book of the Year Awards, this book tackles an array of heavy subjects with a dreamlike, stream-of-consciousness narrative. Interspersed with excerpts from Phee’s vlog, JR’s experiences roll together into an overwhelming wall of pain, interspersed with bright spots that may or may not be real—the support of Takehiko and the wisdom of his talking dog Baba Ami.

    By the end of the book, these semi-fantastical supports have been stripped away, allowing JR to stand on his own two feet.

    The book shows that in domestic violence cases there is often little support or understanding, worsened by the need to conceal the effects of abuse for fear of the abuser finding out that their actions have been revealed. This is underlined by Phee’s narrative, in which she is confused and unsympathetic to JR’s hesitance to leave town because she doesn’t know what his home life is like.

    The book also shows the messiness and lack of resolution in breakdowns of friendship and relationships. By the end of the book, nobody has been fixed or saved, but rather is on a difficult road to recovery.

    Themes

    domestic violence, abuse, art, first relationships, stream-of-consciousness, heroes, trust, graffiti, coming-of-age

    Content Notes

    1. Language: f**k x 20, shit x 32, bastard x 2, dick x 7, bloody x 11, f*ggot (p. 77, 102), bitch x 1, Christ (p. 82). 2. JR’s dad pins his mum and chokes her (p. 12-13, 30). Dad broke two of his wife’s fingers (p. 84). She had a split lip (p. 96). JR’s dad beats him up (p. 100). Clay and his friends beat JR up (p. 101-102). JR’s younger sister Katie died of a heart attack at 7 (p. 45). Clay’s mum committed suicide (p. 78). JR has a dream that his dad kills a snake (p. 81). Dad poisons Baba Ami (p. 140-141), she dies (p. 142). 3. Alcohol (p. 15, 61), JR’s father’s alcoholism is mentioned throughout. Cigarette (p. 58, 76-77). Baba Ami vapes in JR’s dream (p. 39). 4. Phee and JR kiss (p. 17-18, 92, 106-107, 118, 122). JR is turned on by Phee’s feet (p. 17). 5. Phee has two mums. 6. JR’s mum follows a guru, Baba Amita Zaman (for whom the dog is named) and wants to join her ashram in India. She’s not allowed to go to therapy, so healthy juices, meditation, and yoga are her only way of processing her grief for her daughter and fear of death. Baba Ami (the dog) speaks to JR and gives him the wisdom he needs to continue with his life. JR also sometimes sees his hero Takehiko, an anime character, appear before him in times of need. It is never explained whether the talking dog or anime character are in JR’s head, but no-one else interacts with them.