“Living with Jackie Chan” is a follow up to Knowles’s “Jumping Off Swings,” in which high school student Ellie is impregnated by her classmate Josh during a one night stand. LWJC follows Josh as he moves away from his old school to live with his Uncle Larry and complete his senior year at a place where he doesn’t have to constantly face the consequences of his actions. Uncle Larry just so happens to be a karate instructor who is obsessed with Jackie Chan, and he tries to help Josh cope with his mistakes through lessons of character taught in the martial art.
I was blown away by Knowles’s ability to create such a solid voice for a character that she is biologically unable to relate to. Knowles could never know from experience what it’s like to get a girl pregnant and abandon the mother. She had me fooled, though, because she crafted Josh’s self-loathing, depression, and uncertainty with such certainty that it was hard to believe this was a work of fiction rather than a memoir.
Knowles also has created the best sensei to ever enter pop culture with Uncle Larry. From outward appearances, Larry seems like a bit of a doofus, but he has a heart of gold. He takes on the task of helping Josh learn from his mistakes full on, teaching the teen different karate precepts at appropriates times during his journey. The love and concern Larry has for Josh radiates from him without ever feeling overly mushy. Knowles is some kind of emotional sensei herself, because even without making things blatantly emotional, she left me tearing up a few times due to the bond that forms between Josh and Larry.
While the kung fu master himself never enters the story, “Living with Jackie Chan” is a book that will leave you wanting to go on your own journey of self-discovery through martial arts…preferably with the help of Uncle Larry.
Highlights principles of karate that can be practiced in all of our lives.
The best sensei to ever hit pop culture.