Tuc­son Jo

Car­ol Matas
  • Review
By – December 22, 2014

In Tuc­son Jo, acclaimed Jew­ish Young Adult writer Car­ol Matas tells the sto­ry of four­teen-year-old Jo Fiedler, the feisty and free-spir­it­ed daugh­ter of a father based on the first Jew­ish may­or of Tuc­son. The sto­ry opens with the Fiedler family’s move from civ­i­lized Boston to the Wild West” of Ari­zona. The Tuc­son the Fiedlers’ inhab­it is one of shootouts and holdups, and Mr. Fiedler’s 1882 may­oral cam­paign is based on a desire for law and order. Mr. Fiedler’s oppo­nent in the race, Mr. Ryan, though also the father of Jo’s best friend Con­nie, employs an anti-Semit­ic cam­paign against Mr. Fiedler. 

Jo, an impas­sioned ear­ly fem­i­nist, feels op­pressed by her father. She wants to wear pants and learn Tal­mud like her younger broth­er, and she astute­ly points out the dis­crep­an­cies in auton­o­my based on gen­der at the time. Part of her father’s cam­paign is to cre­ate a greater sense of pro­pri­ety for the cit­i­zens of Tuc­son, and Jo fears that under her father’s reign she will feel an even less­er sense of equal­i­ty. Here­in lies a con­flict for Jo. She and Con­nie strug­gle to fig­ure out what is right, and how they as ado­les­cents can fight for the soci­ety they want to be part of. 

Jo also strug­gles with her Jew­ish iden­ti­ty. At one point in the nov­el, her school­mas­ter asks her to explain to the rest of the pupils what it means to be an Israelite, and Jo strug­gles to find a com­pre­hen­sive answer. Ulti­mate­ly, Jo is a strong and relat­able char­ac­ter, fight­ing against being pigeon­holed into the labels of Jew” and girl.”

With this 2014 Nation­al Jew­ish Book Award Final­ist, Matas has cre­at­ed a work of his­tor­i­cal fic­tion that paints a clear pic­ture of late 19th cen­tu­ry life in the Wild West. The book con­tains an after­word with pho­tos of the Strauss fam­i­ly, the fam­i­ly on which the Fiedlers’ is based, and Matas gives an interest­ing expla­na­tion of her research process. Rec­om­mend­ed for ages 10 and up, this is a fast-paced tale filled with both excit­ing action and deep moral quan­daries, all dri­ven by the like­able young Tuc­son Jo.”

Hail­ing from Amherst, MA, Cha­va Lan­sky is a stu­dent at Barnard Col­lege, where she stud­ies Eng­lish Lit­er­a­ture and Dance, and interns for the Jew­ish Book Council.

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