Jimmy Jo Johnson's family are country singers. As the story begins Jimmy Jo has been left behind with his grandmother in the mountains, being considered too young for the group. His grandmother was once part of the group but is now considered too old for the road. It is she who encourages Jimmy Jo to sing and overcome his stage fright. When he finally gets his chance, he outshines his father and mother and becomes the focal point of the group and the cause for their rise to big time. This is not without drawbacks, however. Jimmy Jo's mother, Olive, is not all that pleased to be eclipsed by her son. When she takes off with another man, the family, already on shaky ground, is pushed over the edge. Soon, Jimmy learns that the two people to whom he feels closest are not his biological relatives and that the stranger who claims to be his father is telling the truth. He tells him, "I guess in a matter of speaking I am your son. But you ain't my daddy."
As always in Paterson's books, the characterization is strong: Jimmy Jo's roles within the family group test him greatly and he comforts himself with the music and his feeling for family; Grandma, Jimmy's main support who must face the loss of her own talent; Jerry Lee, Jimmy Jo's apparent father, who works hard to keep the group intact; vain and self-centered Olive who is jealous of her own son and fails to see Jimmy Jo's conflict; Earl, Jimmy Jo's uncle and Olive's lover, he is mean and unscrupulous; Eddie, the group's manager who pulls Jimmy Jo into the group. We get to know and care about the world of this itinerant family, even understanding most of them. There is an underlying theme of gifts meant to be shared and the song the reunited family sings at the end of the book, "Let the Circle Be Unbroken" has great significance to them all.
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In Times Past
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