Book Review: Jagged Little Pill

by | Jun 14, 2022 | Reviews

We take a good look at Jagged Little Pill by Eric Smith with Alanis Morissette, Diablo Cody, and Glen Ballard, out now on Amulet Books.

“A timely, unputdownable adaptation of the Broadway hit that those immersed in the musical and the original record – or those coming to the material for the first time – oughta know.”

Alanis Morissette said recently, when talking about the subject matter of her 1995 phenomenon Jagged Little Pill, “A lot of people would say, ‘Wow. You’re so brave. You’re so empowered. You’re so strong,’ you know? And I’m like, ‘Sometimes.’ I can’t write all these songs without obviously having been disempowered. I mean, half these songs are about attempting to become empowered.”

This balance between empowerment and those seeking it – of people striving to be seen and loved as they truly are – permeates both the Jagged Little Pill jukebox musical and now this worthy novel reworking. Readers are immediately drawn into the world of the teen protagonists and their parents, each dealing with various levels of empowerment that will shape their stories in significant ways.

Author Eric Smith, working from Diablo Cody’s framework from the musical, does a masterful job intertwining the narratives and raising the stakes of each interaction. The book seamlessly switches perspectives from Frankie (an outsider adoptee filled with passion and confusion in equal measure); Nick (Frankie’s “perfect” brother cracking under pressure); Jo (Frankie’s best friend with benefits, navigating identity and expectations); Phoenix (the new kid in town, dealing with grown-up responsibilities); and Bella (re-discovering her voice and power after losing both).

That each of these characters – along with Frankie and Nick’s struggling parents – feel fully realized is a considerable feat. An assault on Bella at a party sets the plot in motion, but it’s the characters who stand out. By using rotating first-person chapters, text messages, and poetry, Smith is able to reveal interior lives, motivations, and contradictions as each person interacts with one another up against conflict both minor and life-shattering.

Fans of Morissette will catch allusions to her lyrics in overt and subtle ways, and once again Smith makes the most of the material, evoking the heart of classics from the Jagged Little Pill record and other songs from the musical without being trite or cheesy. It’s a tough needle to thread, and it works here in surprisingly impactful ways.

As Morissette’s opening quote suggests, her songs resonate with so many because listeners feel seen in her lyrics – and thus empowered by them. That this book can do the same without a musical accompaniment speaks volumes of Smith’s skills as a writer, Morissette and Glen Ballard’s emotion-packed ideas, and Cody’s remarkable story.

It’s a powerful combination, and one that will stick with readers long after the cover closes and the music fades.

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