Yours, Jean

When a jilted fiancé becomes a murderer, the repercussions in a small Illinois town ripple beyond the tragedy, in Yours, Jean, Lee Martin's fifth novel, based on a true crime near his hometown. The first day of school dawns bright that September 1952, and Jean De Belle's new job as the Lawrenceville High School librarian marks a fresh start after her breakup with Charlie Camplain. But Charlie shows up at the school, and when Jean again refuses him, he shoots her.

Martin (The Bright Forever) introduces key characters early: the hotel clerk who rented Charlie a room; the cabdriver who dropped him at the school; Tom, the senior boy who Charlie demands drive him out of town. Charlie is caught quickly, and the community loses interest in the murder, turning to other intrigues. Tom and his girlfriend broke up that morning, and nobody is saying why. But the cabdriver discovers his daughter and Tom had a one-night stand and she's in trouble.

Mary Ellen, mother of Tom's girlfriend, another teacher and Jean's good friend, grieves for the murdered woman, until rumors swirl and gossips bring her under scrutiny: Were she and Jean more than just friends, and is Mary Ellen thus a moral threat to Lawrenceville students? Period details of the 1950s enhance Martin's gripping novel, as do mid-century reactions to class stratification, teen pregnancy and family dynamics. Nevertheless, there are unexpected kindnesses. Martin maintains suspense and, as Tom says, what happens "makes you think," about "everything we do and where it takes us." --Cheryl McKeon, bookseller, Market Block Books, Troy, N.Y.

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