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The Growing Pains of Jennifer Ebert, Aged 19 going on 91

Posted on November 15, 2018

Nineteen-year-old Jennifer is regretting her hasty move into Sunset Promenade, an unusual retirement home taking in students to save money.
Despite their differences in age, Jennifer and the older residents thrive and embark on a series of new adventures.
But when Sunset Promenade is threatened with closure, cracks begin to show, and this quirky group of friends must work together to save their home.


Genre: Fiction/Contemporary
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A Thought-Provoking Look at Life, Love and Loneliness

David Barnett has managed something quite spectacular with his latest novel, knitting together themes of loneliness, love, regret and mystery into a novel that touches on current affairs and fears held within us all. On turning the last page of the book, I was not sure if I was left feeling hopeful, mournful or simply thoughtful. From the author of Calling Major Tom, The Growing Pains of Jennifer Ebert is a thought-provoking novel that truly taps into the mind of every single reader, no matter their age.


A Bit About the Book:

Nineteen-year-old Jennifer is regretting her hasty move into Sunset Promenade, an unusual retirement home taking in students to save money.
Despite their differences in age, Jennifer and the older residents thrive and embark on a series of new adventures.
But when Sunset Promenade is threatened with closure, cracks begin to show, and this quirky group of friends must work together to save their home.
The Growing Pains of Jennifer Ebert, Aged 19 Going on 91 is a funny, warm and uplifting novel about the importance of friendship, the value of community, and how it’s never too late to have the time of your life…

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This is one of these occurrences when reading the blurb of a book simply does not do the story justice. Having read Calling Major Tom, I was more than expecting a flair of humour, a touch of sarcastic dialogue and carefully thought out references to popular culture, after all, it is what David Barnett excels at. I was not, however, expecting to find myself so entrenched in a story that it would lead me to question my own preconceived notions towards a generation I always assumed I was at least sensitive to.

What secrets do each of us hold? When the wrinkles set in and the worry lines of adulthood knit together with the crevasses caused by time, what stories do they hide? What secrets do they mask?

When you walk through the doors of a retirement home, what do you see? A once young soldier? a glamorous young starlet? Maybe even a grieving father? Can you look past the wrinkles into the eyes of the aged and see their lives or does fear blur your vision?

“She wonders if he sees shadows of his own mortality in them, if he worries which one he’s going to end up like.” Isn’t this how many of us view retirement homes. Places many of us visit out of obligation rather than love. Tentatively walking the corridors passed doors that keep hidden the fears we all hold, the fears of growing old?

The release date of this latest novel may have played a part in my initial reactions towards the story. You see, I have written before about loneliness in the elderly. The John Lewis Christmas Adverts have long since tackled emotional subjects, but without a doubt, my favourite one was The Man in the Moon (back in 2015) Their thoughtful tackling of shining a spotlight on the aching loneliness of the elderly surrounded by a growing selfish generation was genius. In many ways, David Barnett’s book does exactly this. Dissecting the true feelings of those in our ageing population.

Jennifer Ebert, as a character, is deeply broken in many ways but represents so much of what we see in the younger generation today. A tendency towards selfishness, a lack of understanding of the world around her and a complete lack of self-awareness wrapped in self-obsession. Her determination to ‘find herself’ or show her ‘true self’ when she moves from her first university to her second shows her immaturity. So busy trying to make her mark by following the crowd, or standing out in the crowd. Dumbing herself down to fit in but determined to be different. It’s not difficult to see how David weaves in his opinions on today’s cavernous generation gap, and if we took a moment to step back and think about it, it’s so blindly obvious to see (…when we are not too busy scrolling through our phones looking for the next ‘obsession’).

But it’s not all bad. Jennifer, as much as she professes to be desperate to be ‘Bacall’, the femme fatale in her very own noir movie of her life, deep down she knows that is not where her true-self lies. With thanks to a superbly set retirement home, filled to the rafters with odd old people each with their own quirks, it doesn’t take long for the outer selfish shell to start to crack, helped a little by the determined pickaxe that is ‘Ringo’, the leading man sitting just a little out of shot.

The characters in this book make the story. The plot itself and the mystery element plays secondary for me. I was less bothered about the ‘who-dunnit’ and more fascinated and captured by the emotional dissection of the wonderful characters that make up this odd home on the hill.

But it’s not just views on the elderly that Barnett tackles. Current affairs such as racism and Brexit play a key role. Views of the older generation battle against those of the younger who feel the country is ignoring their cries of frustration towards current politics. Not just here, but abroad also.

One of my favourite quotes is from Ling, a Chinese student who battles the views of the elderly who can’t wait to be ‘free of the clutches of Europe’ –
“We are in your country because there is money to be made from your own incredible stupidity.” But although David gives a voice to the many young people who feel unheard, he is clever with his subtle but poignant doses of ‘reality check’ coming from a generation who fought so hard for the freedom of our country.
Mr Robinson, one of the characters in the home is quick to pipe up “Bit of Blitz Spirit, that’s what your generation needs. Suck it up and crack on. That’s the ticket.”

Barnett’s attention to detail is superb. His references to the classic noir movies in each and every chapter heading made me smile with recognition. His subtle references to The Beatles had me singing Eleanor Rigby around the house for days. It is a book that followed me around during my daily chores in many different guises.

Favourites parts of the book for me include:
“A minibus full of pensioners and students dressed in Halloween fancy dress wasn’t worth the paperwork” – If ever there was a scene I want to see in a movie, this is it!

“We’ve seen people arrive as strangers and leave as friends” – Barry – In many ways, this is how I felt when I finished the book. I walked through the doors of the home with Jennifer, encased in my own thoughts, simply setting out to read and review a book, and ended feeling as if I had made friends for life, listened to stories that have enriched my life, and changed opinions that I hope will pave a more positive outlook for my ‘later’ years in life.

I feel I can only end this review with one very poignant quote:
“Jennifer Ebert has only existed properly since she came to Sunset Promenade…” – In many ways, I feel the same.

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