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Check It Out: James by Percival Everett

This is Jennifer Havlik with the Sioux City Public Library, and you’re listening to Check It Out.
Today I’m recommending James by Percival Everett. Reviewed as “Genius” by The Atlantic, James is one of the titles featured in our adult summer reading program.

Prior to working for the library, I taught high school language arts, and The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn is a novel I have read at least a dozen times. Retellings of classic works can indeed be polarizing, and before picking it up, I wasn’t sure how I would feel about it. Mark Twain’s writings are so witty, honest, and funny, and his voice so unique. How could any retelling stand alongside that?

James delivers. Written in three parts, the duo experiences many of the same events - floods, feuds, con artists – but Everett explores parts of Jim’s persona that aren’t explored by Twain. Readers see Jim code switching his speech to appease white folk. He’s able to read and write and does both whenever able. There are so many times while reading Huck Finn that readers wonder why on earth Jim goes along with such nonsense; his intelligence, compassion and motivations are fleshed out in James.

One of my favorite aspects of The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn is the humor. There are chapters that made me laugh every time I read them, and I really hoped James would do the same. While I can attest there are laughable moments, it’s not a work of humor. The institution of slavery and all the fear, violence, and plain inhumanity are present in the novel. More a reimagining than a retelling, the latter part of James does divert from Twain’s work, but Everett’s version is no less a masterpiece.

You can find James by Percival Everett and other new adult summer reading titles here at the Sioux City Public Library.

Support for Check It Out on Siouxland Public Media comes from Verde Outdoor Media.

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