This is Not the Jess Show

  • Post by Rachel Comish
  • May 14, 2019
Level: Teen
Recommended Age: 13+
Genres: Mystery, Drama
Tags: Competition, Fake relationship, Family, Music, Philosophy, Romance, Sisters, Social Media
Mature Content:

  - Mild violence: Attempts at physical force and captivity.

  - Mild sexuality: Brief kissing, allusions to sexual manipulation.

  - Mild language: Some swearing.

Jess Flynn is your average teenage girl in 1998, obsessing over movie stars, struggling with her sister’s illness, worrying about her best friends hanging out without her, and totally crushing on her childhood friend. But her odd little town takes a turn for the stranger when a mysterious flu hits. Jess can’t help wondering why this particular bug has emptied out the town, and why everyone always seems to be watching her. She can’t help but feel like her friends are keeping secrets, and she knows for a fact that her mom is lying to her about something. The more she thinks about it, the more she wonders if maybe her charming town isn’t so perfect after all.


As a big fan of both The Truman Show and 90s culture, I was immediately excited about this premise. There are so many fun references to classics like Clueless, Saved by the Bell, and Savage Garden. Jess is a scrunchie wearing teen who sees everything on the surface, which is fitting seeing as how her life is very focused on looks. Everything has to be perfectly true to the 90s. It’s a world built on nostalgia, and Jess has no idea how fake her world really is.

I can see how the author really tried to make Jess a very average teenager who stumbles on a life changing secret. Jess has genuine concerns about her life, and is mortified when she realizes the whole world not only knows about her crush, but has watched her go through bad hair days, goofy hairbrush singing sessions, and every embarrassing mistake. And while Jess processes this information and pushes the plot forward in an attempt to uncover the truth and take control of her life, she never seems to go deeper than a classic 90s heroine in a “made for TV” movie. And maybe the author did that on purpose in order to reach peak level nostalgia, though it honestly could have been even more 90s. This plot could have been darker and twistier, with more mystery and higher stakes. But it’s a fun, sort of lighthearted reflection on freedom and privacy. It’s like The Circle’s little sister who is obsessed with The Truman Show.

It would have been so much fun if Jess had been more like the classic favorite 90s heroines, but perhaps the author was too concerned about copyrights to take it that far. It might have turned out a bit too campy and similar to WandaVision in that scenario, and the balance of old and new culture felt very deliberate. I did really like the ending, though I wished the book was longer and more fleshed out. I thought the way the author wrapped it up was very fitting to her reflection on how people don’t care about reality, they only want to be entertained. It doesn’t matter if something isn’t real. What matters is whether or not people believe in it. And when a fandom gets that crazy obsessive mindset, anything can happen.

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