Joseph Yakel,
The Legend of Juggin Joe
(Lulu, 2005)

First things first: a lot of effort has gone into this book, from the inside sleeve to the "Cast of Characters" page and "About the Author." Even the cover art has been strategically designed.

Joseph Yakel, inspired by his childhood spent in the country laced with an active imagination, pens this fictional tale of Josef Jeckel. Josef, son of Isabel and Doc Jeckel, becomes a local hero amongst his people due to his originality of spirit and musical gift. Early on he shows a skill for playing the jug -- yes, the jug, Josef plays the jug in such a mind-blowing way that he becomes known as "Juggin Joe."

His jug playing becomes famous, even Ronald Reagan's a fan! There are touching family stories that happen along the way, romance blossoms and even war is featured. Throughout the book you are reading print written entirely in North American "country" dialect, which can be taxing at times but soon becomes a huge part of this story's charm. The narrator is known simply as the "Stahry Teller" and his identity remains a mystery just to keep you guessing.

The Legend of Juggin Joe is difficult to get into with the first read, but I enjoyed following the story and finding out how Juggin Joe ended up in his life. It was a somewhat predictable finish but it was entertaining, and I believe the dedication to staying in dialect made it more interesting; it gave the book character and humour. There was just no avoiding reading this book without hearing a hillbilly voiceover running through your head.

I could imagine this being a real legend that you could memorize and tell to generations of families, for at its core is a family story and a depiction of a young man's odyssey. To me, as the reader, it's a coming-of-age story as well, so it would resonate with young and old.

Overall, Yakel has produced a bold, unique book that explores a handful of themes in a 124-paged, light-hearted way. To its credit, I've never read anything quite like it. Dang!

by Jo Overfield
3 June 2006

[ visit the author's website ]