The Promise of Jesse Woods Week #2

Forums Fiction General Writing Discussions The Promise of Jesse Woods Week #2

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    Daeus Lamb

    Welcome back, guys. I think by now we should all be around chapter 9. Unless you couldn’t help yourself and already finished it. 😉

    One thing I particularly loved about this book was Matt’s relationship with Jesse and…oh, drat. I forgot his name. The other guy! #badmemory

    I can’t speak for you, but I found it a tight friendship that I really cared about–more than with most friendships in books. (And friendships are what books are chiefly about, amiright?)

    My question for you is, if you feel the same way, what is it that makes you feel more than just ordinary sympathy for them?


    Hey! I read ahead a little, but I want the stuff we’re talking about here to be fresh in my mind, so I didn’t go too far lol.

    Matt, Jesse, and Dickie do have an interesting relationship. Matt genuinely became friends with them and is attracted to Jesse from the start, but because everyone around him looks down on them that mindset rubs off on him. Like he knows Earl’s a bad choice for Jesse, and we see why in the flashback chapters, but why does he assume that no one else can change for the better, and that Jesse can’t possibly be making the right choice because it’s not him? He doesn’t seem to respect her very much.

    And I’m sure the book will get to this, but where has he been this whole time? It’s lame that he only shows up now. If he’s so sure, why didn’t he try to fix things a long time ago?

    Matt likes them, but he does start to feel a little important and good, just because he stands up for them when other people don’t. So he’s unconsciously ruining his chances with Jesse since she’s never going to appreciate being pitied and belittled.

    And Dickie seems more easy-going, so he doesn’t mind as much and just brushes it off, but the two of them haven’t talked in a long time either, and in these chapters we can start to see why. Matt introduces them to the library, but he does it with some snooty, cheesy lines about “going anywhere”. He feels better than them. He denies it, but he acts it out a lot.

    I’m really curious about what will happen in these next chapters. I wonder if Matt learns to get over himself, and if the story comes to a happy conclusion or not.

    Thanks @daeus-lamb for the discussion!


    I'm nobody, Who are you? -Emily Dickinson 뜻이 있는 곳에 길이 있다.

    Elisha Starquill

    *raises hand* I’m one of those people who couldn’t help themselves and have already read through the entire book. xD Probably was not the wisest decision, since I likely forgot a lot of the finer details, but again, I couldn’t help it.

    I think the main reason why I wanted to root for the trio was because they faced a lot of cruel, unfair adversity that really spoke to my sense of justice. Especially whenever people who called themselves Christians and attended church acted so outright cruel and hypocritical to Jess and Dickie. I got a very un-Christian desire to punch those individuals in the face.

    – Hmm, that’s interesting, because I didn’t feel like Matt was snooty at all. He came across as genuinely wanting to befriend them even though no one else did, which to me made it feel very special. But I’m doubting myself now, because I definitely agree with you about the whole deal with Earl. I won’t say anything more about it, so as not to give anything away. 😉

    "Moonlight drowns out all but the brightest stars." ~ J.R.R. Tolkien


    Something worth noting I think is that Jesse and Dickie are both the first people around Matt’s age and I think the first non family members who don’t comment on his weight. The fact that they keep him on “their level” really solidifies them as being his peers. As @caseybold mentioned Matt is attracted to Jesse from the first moment that they meet; this can affect even a well-intended friendship.

    “What makes us feel more than ordinary sympathy for them?”

    I believe that the emphasis the author puts on the social and economic standings of Jesse and Dickie do a lot to cement them as needing positive attention and support. Matt sticks up for them to his grandmother who immediately refers to them as being “lesser than.” His conscience leads to him paying for the things they “stole” from a convenience store, which affects Jesse and Dickie to such a degree that they vow to not shoplift anymore. Not only are these children looked down upon by townsfolk but their entire families are scorned and shunned.

    While some of these reactions are a little over the top in my opinion (mayyyybe the church picnic), it certainly isn’t outside of the realm of possibility and unfortunately has happened many times in the real world. When we as the readers witness a couple of 12-14 year old children being cussed out and socially stepped on, it gives us a real reason to want to see these kids pull through and become stronger through it.

    "Only a Sith deals in absolutes"
    -Quipmaster 2005

    Taylor Clogston

    I, uh, hated Matt’s relationship with Jesse =P And while I liked his relationship with Dickie, the narrative conclusion (aside from the first chapter stuff) of their relationship irritated me.

    It’s unfortunate we’re talking about their friendship so early in the book, before the most important developments occur. Navigating conflict is the heart of interpersonal relationships, and we’re talking about the core relationships of the book before those conflicts arise.

    hit the nail on the head re Matt’s high-minded snootiness. Though he wants to be their friend, he has an air of superiority about him. At least Jessie and Dickie were written to be intelligent regardless of their education—that’s not a grace given to most of the other characters in this book.

    No. Matt does not respect Jessie. Neither, throughout his life, does he understand her, and is constantly, unwittingly throwing his privilege in her face.

    “‘Can’t make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear,’ she said.
    ‘If it’s because you don’t have money for a dress, I can help.’” (Fabry, 40)

    “‘She give lessons?’ Jesse said.
    ‘Not yet. I mean, she used to. Back in Pittsburgh.’
    ‘How much they cost?’ Jesse said.
    ‘I don’t know. A few dollars a lesson, maybe?’
    She scowled. ‘Do you play?’
    ‘She was teaching me but I wanted somebody not related.’” (Fabry, 103)

    “Dickie pulled the hook from his mouth. I asked if I could be the one to let him go.
    ‘What do you mean let him go?’ Jesse said.
    ‘We always let them go when I’ve fished.’
    The two looked at each other and then back at me.
    ‘You can do what you want—he’s your fish,’ Dickie said. ‘But I usually give anything I catch to Jesse.’
    ‘Daisy Grace loves her some fried fish,’ Jesse said, sizing up the catch.
    ‘That’s fine,’ I said. ‘I didn’t think about you eating it.’ … I couldn’t help but feel like I had contributed in a small way to Jesse’s family.” (Fabry, 121)

    I want to bring up a couple gigantic plot points from later, but don’t want to flavor anyone else’s reading of Matt or the relationship between him and Jesse, so I won’t.

    That said, the library scene was nice. I smiled way harder than I thought this book could make me smile when the librarian took an actual interest in the people not “supposed” to be there, and at the thought of Dickie coming back over the years for all kinds of conspiracy theory books.

    Good point @allertingthbs on how they don’t just look at him as Butterball mcLardon when we hear from him, often, how people around him judge you by your weight and how much food you take.

    eden anderson

    Ooh, this is so fun! I feel a little out of my league though, because I’m not used to critiquing or looking very in-depth at books. I just kind of read them and if I like them, I like them and if I hate them, I hate them. And don’t have any particular idea why. 🙃 I guess it’s good to do things outside of our comfort zones sometimes, though.

    So, actually I was pretty skeptical going into this, because I have this prejudice against Christian fiction, and I was like “yay christian fiction. how fun. this is going to be mediocre at best.” But I then I started reading it…and I now confess of my earlier assumptions and accusations. I am really enjoying it! 😄

    I’m ready for Chapter 14…that’s like only five chapters ahead. I may have…kinda-ish got sucked in. 😳🙃 @elisha-starquill I didn’t get quite as far as you did though. 😂

    I really loved the friendship between Matt, Dickie, and Jesse, although I’m not really a fan of the relationship between Matt and Jesse. @taylorclogston I’m glad I’m not the only one. I didn’t really want to say anything about it because I thought I might just come across as a cynical, old ogre. 😬😂

    Dickie is probably my favorite character so far. ❤️

    I think one of the reasons I like the friendship between the kids so much is because, like @elisha-starquill said, they all sort of band together and are connected through their suffering/hardships. They just hang out and have fun together and they teach each other things and it’s just so sweet.

    I agree with you. The whole “Matt vs. Earl” thing is kind of rubbing me the wrong way. Matt almost acts like Jesse somehow belongs to him, and heaven forbid that she grow up and decide that she loves someone else! But then again, I haven’t finished the book, and it might change. So, I’ll just wait and see.

    One thing I do know for sure is that I prefer the twelve year old Matt to the adult Matt. 😂




    "But how could you live and have no story to tell?" - Fyodor Dostoyevsky


    My favorite thing about the friendship is that it feels somehow…archetypical to me. The rich boy. The poor girl. The boy who’s half one thing, half another. It’s like a fairytale setup or some other kind of ancient story transplanted to 1970s West Virginia. Maybe I’m reading too deeply into it, though.

    I do think Matt is (inadvertently) being self-righteous, snooty, and insulting. But I also think that’s the point. If he doesn’t change by the end of the book I won’t be too happy, but it looks to me like all that is set up as his character arc. I think he’s going to see how wrong he is and change. He already kind of sees how wrong he is, he just doesn’t know how to fix it. One thing I like about this friendship is that Jesse and Dickie bring Matt’s faults to the surface and force him to face them. My guess is that he will face them and never be the same again.

    It is a little odd that Matt seems so possessive of Jesse. I think he implied in the first chapter that Earl is known for abuse, though? He said something along the lines of “knowing what he’d do to Jesse,” and when we meet him as a kid, he’s clearly prone to violence. So I can understand Matt’s desire to keep Jesse from getting physically and emotionally hurt. But if it’s that bad, maybe he should be calling the police…it’s hard to say from the vantage point of chapter 10. There’s clearly a lot of history that I don’t know at this point.

    Lastly, like other people have said, the fact that they face so much adversity and injustice, and in various ways save each other from it, gives them a strong bond and a sense that they need each other, not just so they aren’t bored but because each fills a spot in the others’ lives that no one else could fill.

    Plus, now every time someone asks me “How are you doing?” I really want to answer, “Lookin for a breakthrough.” XD

    "...by knowing me here for a little, you may know me better there."

    Daeus Lamb

    @caseybold @elisha-starquill @allertingthbs @taylorclogston @eden-anderson @jennythefaun

    Hey, this is already going where I didn’t expect it. I actually really liked Matt. 😁Well, particularly his younger self, but the older self was fine too. It’s fascinating how we read the same things differently. @taylorclogston, the lines you quoted, I actually accredited to hypersensitivity rather than insensitivity. I saw him as someone who wanted to save people badly but his lack of life experience made him awkward and way too obvious about it. I wish I had a better grip on what makes readers interpret events differently.

    You all are totally right Matt’s family and church’s resistance to Jesse and Dickie making their friendship special. That more than anything kept me turning the pages.

    One thing I like about this friendship is that Jesse and Dickie bring Matt’s faults to the surface and force him to face them.

    I hadn’t thought of that. I should use that more in my own stories…


    What is it that makes you feel more than just ordinary sympathy for them?

    For me, it’s the amount of detail that is given; people’s attitudes towards Jesse and Dickie (I got seriously annoyed at the parents’ milquetoast responses to Matt quoting “the least of these” scripture), the small hints at their backstories, and Matt’s persistence in befriending them.

    Another part is that in this friendship I can see what CS Lewis was talking about, when he said that the absence of one person in a group leads to a different chemistry between all the rest. (I can’t recall the quote off the top of my head, but that’s the gist of it. :P)

    Will likely post more musings soon, but my lunch hour got away from me…

    Taylor Clogston

    @daeus-lamb Young Matt is awesome, gotta agree with you there. He certainly has some deep-seated issues, but I can forgive a lot of them in an ignorant kid, bless his heart.

    And I’ll definitely give you the bit with the fish, Daeus. That was certainly a time when he just wanted to help out. You’re right that he’s hypersensitive about people needing the basics of life and trying to help them, but the failure over all the years of them knowing each other to realize telling Jesse that he’d be happy to pay for a prom dress if she couldn’t afford one shows me he never gains a deeper understanding of her, or the maturity to let other people make their own choices in life.

    Which is of course the core conflict of the book, but social incompetence doesn’t make me like older Matt in the slightest. Though I also can’t stand the same social awkwardness cringe in The Office, and that’s a super popular show, so maybe I’m just odd like that.

    His parents telling him not to hang around them all summer was, to me, the most interesting part of the book, because it seemed like a real no-win situation. Practically speaking, his parents were absolutely right about bad influences and people coming and going all hours of the day. Jessie and Dickie are a couple of troublemakers with too much time on their hands, and them being bad influences to their sheltered little boi is a real potential problem.

    But we also have sympathy for the troublemakers and know that they need a friend and that Matt needs friends in them. I find it interesting that, early on, Matt thinks about how his relationship with Jesse had always been a point of contention between him and his father, when even up to this point, as annoying as it might be to see his parents being like “hey how about you don’t hang around these kids too much despite them being the very first friends you’ve made here among a bunch of terrible other people,” they’re really being about as supportive as I could reasonably expect.

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