The Sharp Time
When you have a name like Sandinista Jones, it doesn’t really matter how much you’d love to just blend in and be normal; it probably won’t happen. And Sandinista is also saddled with being 18, parentless, and seemingly without any allies. After an incident at school gets out of hand, she decides she can do without high school and gets a job at The Pale Circus, a trendy secondhand clothing boutique.
"[THE SHARP TIME is] smart and authentic, dealing with grief, confusion and impending adulthood in a way that is totally fair to its protagonist and its readers."
In the week encompassed in THE SHARP TIME, Sandinista is finally given the time and space to decompress since her mother’s death; to process her feelings about Catherine Bennett, a cruel teacher whose bad treatment of Sandinista and others may be related to her own grief; and to create bonds with new friends like Bradley, the other part-time cashier at The Pale Circus, and Erika, the proprietress of an erotic cake store.
Not only can Sandinista not get over what happened at school before she up and left on Monday, she’s also trying to figure out exactly what happened. Why did Catherine Bennett treat Alecia, the “slow girl,” so badly? How did she not understand that Sandinista’s ADD was at least in some way related to the fact that her mother has recently died? And what is Sandinista going to do about it? What can this shiny new pink gun do for her?
THE SHARP TIME is not so sharp. Instead, it’s cloudy and a bit confusing, with occasional moments of lucidity, just like Sandinista herself. Sandinista narrates exactly how she’s thinking, which means she jumps around from memory to memory, makes impulsive decisions, repeatedly visits the school she thinks she’s happy about leaving, and obsesses over the phone calls she should be receiving from adults about her well-being. The prose is so honest and truthful, so indicative of a strong girl grappling with her vulnerability who really doesn’t know what to think or where to turn, but who is still perfectly capable of taking care of herself. It’s serious, smart, grown-up, and completely teen-like. The book is older YA exactly the way it should be, with a mix of maturity and immaturity just like a real 18-year-old.
If you’re looking for a quick read and a fast-paced story, THE SHARP TIME is not for you. This is a book for the outsiders, for the readers of NICK AND NORAH’S INFINITE PLAYLIST and THE PERKS OF BEING A WALLFLOWER. It’s smart and authentic, dealing with grief, confusion and impending adulthood in a way that is totally fair to its protagonist and its readers. It’s also colorful and firmly literary realism, a nod to author Mary O’Connell’s MFA from the Iowa Writer’s Workshop.
Full of lively characters and vivid settings, THE SHARP TIME feels a bit like magic realism, as The Pale Circus could be a setting for saints or sprites as much as it is the setting for its realistic-but-larger-than-life Henry Charbonneau, Bradley and Erika. While at times too obtuse for its own good, the novel is packed with beautiful prose and a very true-to-life, touching story.
Reviewed by Sarah Hannah Gomez on January 22, 2012