It tells the story of a week in the life of Judith Ormand, a young Jewish woman of mixed ethnicity, who returns to the village of Black Bear, Pennsylvania after the death of her grandmother. Her grandmother, Martha, had made her promise seventeen years before, never to return to the village where she, Judith, had encountered prejudice and hatred. After receiving an anonymous message that she is needed by Martha, Judith returns. She is too late to see her grandmother before she dies, but there is much to do to pack up the family farmhouse and settle the details of the estate.
Judith meets old friends from the past; makes new friends and encounters some enemies too. She has many decisions to make during her week in Black Bear and not many of them are easy. She listens to advice from every direction, but ultimately, she has to follow her heart. I do not wish to say more about the plot, as I feel it would spoil the book for other readers.
What I can say is that there is so much to love about Jo Joe: the well defined characters; the wonderful descriptions of the farm and surrounding forest; the exploration of the relationships between the characters. I was particularly enthralled by the relationship between Judith and her grandmother – how “hidden agendas” can alter people’s lives and perceptions.
I hope that Sally Wiener Grotta writes more novels that are set in Black Bear – I would certainly read them!