Little Miss Strange by Joanna Rose book cover

My Uncle Syd sent me Joanna Rose’s Little Miss Strange last year because, as he said, “The author reminded me of you, the way she notices so much detail in everyday life.” After reading Rose’s novel, I am deeply complimented. I loved this book.

Little Miss Strange is the story of Sarajean Henry, a little girl growing up in Denver, Colorado in the late 1960s and early 1970s. As a Kindergartner she attends Free School where her teachers are high or on heroin the majority of the time. The novel is Sarajean’s coming of age story – a motherless child of love children – and tells of her early adolescence living with Jimmy Henry, whom she calls Jimmy Henry (not Dad), and who may or may not be her father. She sometimes comes home to him shooting up in the kitchen.

Rose does a spectacular job of showing us the world of Sarajean’s adults through the eyes of a child: Sarajean does not know her maybe-father is shooting heroin, she only sees grown-ups in the kitchen scrambling to put things away. Adult readers are able to decipher situations in a way that Sarajean, an innocent, cannot, as when Jimmy Henry’s sketchy friends come over or their downstairs neighbor Tina Blue seems to be floating away in a universe that is not here. Sarajean has no idea Tina Blue is a junkie.

Little Miss Strange is a down-to-earth treatment of a far out hippie world, and it is a much more realistic, much less idealistic vision of that world than I ever had. I grew up enamored with hippie culture: peace, love, freedom, happiness. I watched Woodstock over and over, drew peace signs on my homemade paper-sack book covers, sang “Hair” with the top down, watched the movie, went to live productions in Savannah and at the Fox Theatre in Atlanta. I never thought of the children who were abandoned and lost because of free love or of mothers who disappeared to chase highs in the name of peace, love, freedom, and happiness.

Sarajean is my hero.  Rather than going wild in a wild 1970s climate, as her close friend does, Sarajean seeks out stability. She begins helping a Hispanic mother and son in their thrift shop, Someone’s Beloved Threads. She finds comfort and safety with them, displays loyalty, an admirable moral compass, and a strong work ethic, despite her bad-girl best friend who pressures her to do things Sarajean simply does not want to do, like running away with rough young men.

Despite her lack of of a mother and her uncertainty about who her father is, Sarajean does not seem lost. She does not blow with the wind, she does not follow what’s cool or parrot what the hip kids do; she checks her center and follows what she finds there.

Sarajean, though she does not know her mother or father, knows herself, and for this I love her. I did not know myself at her age – I’m only really getting to know myself now, at the age of 39 – and her quiet confidence is inspiring to me even as a grown woman. Sarajean is herself, and she is my hero.

I am grateful to to have my own copy, on my own shelf of this book, and I do not have to give it back to the library. Book ownership is a rarity for me. Thank you, Uncle Syd.

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