Johnson, Kathleen Jeffrie 1950–
Johnson, Kathleen Jeffrie 1950–
Born 1950, in Washington, DC; daughter of Jacie (a painter) and Roy (an engineer); married; husband's name Stephen. Education: Earned A.A.
Home—Germantown, MD. E-mail—[email protected]
Writer of teen novels. Previously worked as a library technician.
The Parallel Universe of Liars, Roaring Brook Press (Brookfield, CT), 2002.
Target, Roaring Brook Press (Brookfield, CT), 2003.
A Fast and Brutal Wing, Roaring Brook Press (Brookfield, CT), 2004.
Dumb Love, Roaring Brook Press (New Milford, CT), 2005.
Gone, Roaring Brook Press (New Milford, CT), 2007.
Contributor of essay to The World of the Golden Compass: The Otherworldly Ride Continues, edited by Scott Westerfeld, Benbella Books, 2007; and of short fiction to Owning It: Stories about Teen with Disabilities, edited by Donald R. Gallo, Candlewick Press (New York, NY), 2008.
Kathleen Jeffrie Johnson is the author of teen novels that do not shy away from controversial issues. Although often dealing with serious topics such as rape, incest, and mental illness in her stories, Johnson attempts to offset those themes with humor. "My books have been called dark, edgy, full of risk," the author noted on her home page. "But there's humor, too. To go into the darkness without carrying a light of some kind is just too difficult for me." It took Johnson some time to figure out the kind of book she wanted to write. She tried writing for adults and writing for children, but nothing seemed to work until she focused on adolescents. As she wrote on her home page, "I spent my whole life trying to become a writer.… I finally found my fiction voice writing novels for teenagers.
Johnson's first novel, The Parallel Universe of Liars, is a story about the sexual awakening of Robin Davis, a normal teen dealing with an abnormal family situation. Her parents are divorced and her body-conscious mother is preparing for a second marriage, encouraging Robin to lose weight before the wedding. Robin's father is already remarried to beautiful, young China, who is having an affair with next-door neighbor Frankie, the subject of Robin's own crush. When Robin meets Tri, she is given the chance to form a healthy romantic relationship, if only she can convince herself that love is not always about lying and cheating. Given the number of plot elements, including race issues resulting from Tri's biracial identity, Booklist critic Ilene Cooper felt that "first-time novelist Johnson does a remarkable job of juggling." A Kirkus Reviews contributor, while describing the cast of the book as "unappealing," added that "Johnson knows how to turn a phrase and her heroine's voice is incisive and sadly authentic." A Publishers Weekly critic, on the other hand, found Robin to be "a refreshingly ordinary narrator living among realistically flawed family and friends," and Miriam Lang Budin concluded in School Library Journal that The Parallel Universe of Liars "is the work of a promising writer."
In Target, sixteen-year-old Grady West has a normal life. Then, while walking home from a failed date one night, Grady is assaulted by two men and brutally raped. Everything reminds Grady of that night, and he transfers to a new school in the hopes that he can just blend in and disappear. At his new school, outgoing and likeable Jess Williams tries to get the now-silent and anorexic Grady to come out of his shell. "Target meticulously portrays [Grady's] long-term healing, and how he finds a spark of light here and there, through trust and caring friends," wrote J.A. Ksazuba Locke in her review for Bookloons online. "The story moves at a glacier's pace, but necessarily so: for Grady, every movement, every word is excruciating, each minute of the day a challenge," wrote a contributor to Publishers Weekly. Alison Follos, reviewing the novel for School Library Journal, concluded of Target that "there are no easy solutions or quick fixes here—but there are sound friendships from credible characters." A Kirkus Reviews contributor called the novel "painful and riveting."
A Fast and Brutal Wing is the story of Niki and Emmet, two siblings who have been abandoned by their father. Other characters include their sympathetic classmate Doug, who struggles through grief about his mother's death. Told through letters and e-mails, snippets of articles from a newspaper, and short-story excerpts, readers learn that Doug reported Emmet and Niki for attacking a reclusive local author, accusing them of possibly even changing into animals—something he recants. Emmet is put into an institution, even though he claims the idea that he can shapeshift is a fancy of his sister's. Niki is monitored from home, writing a short story that further reveal her own belief about her supernatural abilities. There are additional hints that Emmet and Niki have an incestuous relationship, which Doug fervently denies. "Mature readers will be drawn into—and chilled by—this suspenseful novel," predicted a Publishers Weekly contributor. A Kirkus Reviews critic called A Fast and Brutal Wing "a memorable read that allows fantasy, mystery, and realistic fiction fans alike to examine the power of love." In Booklist Frances Bradburn concluded of Johnson's novel that it is one "readers will remember long after turning the final page."
In Dumb Love Johnson moves away from the serious themes of her earlier books and introduces teenage advice columnist Carlotta. Carlotta is determined to get the attention of her crush, Pete, and her quest for love is the focus of the romantic tale. As she told Cynthia Leitich Smith in Cynsations online: "Ever since I'd had a library job, years ago, where I processed paperback romance novels … I knew I had a romance novel in me; I just needed the right moment to give it birth." Reviewing Dumb Love for Booklist, Gillian Engberg cited the story's "unforgettable characters and Johnson's southern-tinged prose." A Publishers Weekly critic also predicted that readers "will take a shine to these characters," and concluded that Dumb Love is "big on funny moments, details and big-hearted characters."
Johnson returns to more serious themes in Gone, the tale of an illicit relationship between recently graduated Connor and his former history teacher. Connor has had difficult relationships with his parents, both of whom are alcoholics. When readers meet the teen, his mother has abandoned the family and his dad is in a nursing home due to an alcohol-related accident, leaving Connor with his aunt. Unsure of what to do with his life after high school, Connor decides to pursue a relationship with Ms. Corinna Timms, a teacher who has a host of her own issues as well as a mysterious past. When Corinna decides to move to New Mexico, Connor plans to accompany her, hoping to find a place he can call home. "Readers will find it easy to sympathize with Connor," wrote a Publishers Weekly contributor. Jennifer Mattson, reviewing Gone for Booklist, maintained that in Johnson's prose "crushing emotions are beautifully drawn."
"While I am currently working on another ‘realistic, edgy’ teen novel, in the books that come next I hope to pick up the fantastical thread I started in A Fast and Brutal Wing," Johnson told SATA. "Not the same thread, but one of the many that shimmer in that blurred spot between what is real and what isn't. Why stick with only what we call ‘the truth’? The mind is capable of so many interesting, if sometimes weird, interpretations of reality." In an interview for the Random House Web site, Johnson offered advice to young authors. "My tip for aspiring writers, besides ‘Read, read, read,’ is—‘write!’ Nothing else will substitute. You either need to do it or you don't. But give yourself and your words time to grow."
Biographical and Critical Sources
Booklist, September 15, 2002, Ilene Cooper, review of The Parallel Universe of Liars, p. 227; December 15, 2004, Frances Bradburn, review of A Fast and Brutal Wing, p. 736; September 15, 2005, Gillian Engberg, review of A Fast and Brutal Wing, p. 76; March 15, 2007, Jennifer Mattson, review of Gone, p. 42.
Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books, November, 2003, Deborah Stevenson, review of Target, p. 109; December, 2004, Krista Hutley, review of A Fast and Brutal Wing, p. 173; March, 2007, Deborah Stevenson, review of Gone, p. 296.
Kirkus Reviews, October 1, 2002, review of The Parallel Universe of Liars, p. 1471; August 1, 2003, review of Target, p. 1018; October 1, 2004, review of A Fast and Brutal Wing, p. 962.
Publishers Weekly, October 7, 2002, review of The Parallel Universe of Liars, p. 74; November 3, 2003, review of Target, p. 76; November 22, 2004, review of A Fast and Brutal Wing, p. 61; October 17, 2005, review of Dumb Love, p. 69; February 26, 2007, review of Gone, p. 92.
School Library Journal, December, 2002, Miriam Lang Budin, review of The Parallel Universe of Liars, p. 142; December, 2003, Alison Follos, review of Target, p. 153; November, 2005, Emily Garrett, review of Dumb Love, p. 138; July, 2006, review of A Fast and Brutal Wing, p. 37; May, 2007, Sheila Fiscus, review of Gone, p. 134.
Voice of Youth Advocates, December, 2002, review of The Parallel Universe of Liars, p. 384; April, 2005, review of A Fast and Brutal Wing, p. 12; April, 2007, Mary Ann Harlan, review of Gone, p. 50.
Adams Literary Agency Web site,http://www.adamsliterary.com/ (December 21, 2007), "Kathleen Jeffrie Johnson."
Cynsations,http://cynthialeitichsmith.blogspot.com/ (October 19, 2005), Cynthia Leitich Smith, interview with Johnson.
Bookloons,http://www.bookloons.com/ (December 21, 2007), J.A. Kaszuba Locke, review of Target.
Kathleen Jeffrie Johnson Blog site,http://thefustyblob.blogspot.com/ (December 21, 2007).
Kathleen Jeffrie Johnson Home Page,http://www.kathleenjeffriejohnson.com (December 21, 2007).
Random House Web site,http://www.randomhouse.com/ (December 21, 2007), interview with Johnson.