“How does anyone grow into believing they deserve anything? When does that happen?”
Frankie has never felt like she fits in with her adopted family. It’s not just that she’s Black in a white family. It’s also that no matter how much she talks (or yells) her mother always cares more about making the right impression than speaking up for what she believes him. It’s that no one talks about how much her mom and dad have been fighting. It’s that her older brother, Nick, is marking time until he can start college in the fall.
No one gets Frankie the way Jo does. She’s there for every cause, every protest, and everything else Frankie needs–including kissing an maybe starting to date? It’s easier being around Frankie than it is to deal with her stifling home life where her conservative mother refuses to see Jo for who she really is.
Phoenix wants to help his mom, be present for his sister, and keep a low profile at school when his family moves so that his older sister can get better hospital care. That goes out the window once he meets Frankie.
Nick is so tired of doing well at school, keeping things together at home, being the guy everyone counts on. After spending his whole life looking out for other people he just wants one night to himself–one night where maybe he and Bella can get beyond awkwardly flirting to something more.
Bella has always liked Nick and knowing that he’s looking out for her. But after that party and Bella’s sexual assault all she really wants is to be believed in Jagged Little Pill (2022) by Eric Smith with Alanis Morissette, Diablo Cody, and Glen Ballard.
Jagged Little Pill is the official novelization of the musical by the same name. Both are inspired by, and feature music from, Alanis Morissette’s seminal album Jagged Little Pill. The novel alternates first person point of view between Frankie, Jo, Phoenix, Nick and Bella with texts and other online messaging between chapters to further expand the story. Frankie is Black and Phoenix is Latinx–all other main characters (like most of the Connecticut suburb where the novel is set) are white.
All five points of view intersect in the aftermath of Bella’s assault while Bella tries to process her trauma, Frankie and Jo sweep in urging Bella to demand justice in a public way first by going to the police and then with a protest rally, and Nick waits to come forward while he tries to decide if he believes his longtime crush Bella or his best friend who assaulted her. Phoenix plays the role of observer even as he’s drawn to Frankie and–later–drawn into an ill-advised fling with Frankie who chooses to ignore that she is cheating on Jo in all the ways that matter even though the girls haven’t officially defined their relationship.
Morisette’s iconic lyrics are integrated into the text as subtle Easter eggs for fans and less subtly as poetry written by Frankie in a painful class seen where Phoenix can see how little she’s able to fit in with her other white classmates and how little space they are willing to give Frankie or her ideas in a classic show of microaggressions. Side plots in the story deal with opioid addiction and advocacy. While some things tie up neatly (as musical fans might well expect), there are no easy answers for many of the characters’ messier choices including Frankie’s cheating and Nick’s failure to stand by Bella when she needs him most. This choice does leave some character growth up in the air, but it also lends authenticity to a story with no easy answers.
Although intrinsically tied to the album, readers can and will appreciate Jagged Little Pill without any familiarity with the musical production or the album itself. That said, you can listen to the full cast recording of Jagged Little Pill on Youtube (readers of the book will also find a QR code link at the end): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KeGMmeX6iCc&list=PLIGJvUWjlxeNy7lqwXxMtMUwR4djyFXSf
Possible Pairings: We Deserve Monuments by Jas Hammonds, Tricks by Ellen Hopkins, Every Body Looking by Candice Iloh, All We Left Behind by Ingrid Sundberg, Nothing Burns As Bright As You by Ashley Woodfolk