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Seeing Off the Johns

Kirkus Review
An atmospheric, refreshing read that will resonate with readers from towns both small and large.
Loss, love, and coming of age meet in a small, hormone-charged (fictional) Texas town.
After a debut collection of short stories for adults (Along These Highways, 2012), Perez offers a teen novel that begins in the summer of 1998, when John Mejia and John Robison, two all-star athletes from Greenton, die in a fatal car accident on the way to Austin, where they were supposed to start what would certainly have been the next chapter of their legendary lives at the University of Texas. While the whole town mourns the Johns’ deaths, Concepcion “Chon” Gonzalez, a character who might remind readers of a Texan Oscar Wao, thinks of only Araceli Monsevais, “Goddess of Greenton and queen of Chon’s dreams” and Mejia’s abandoned girlfriend. Despite occasional pacing lulls and choppy transitions, Perez successfully zooms out to share the goings-on, mostly relevant, in a town that’s grooming new athletes and amid families that are coping with grief for lost sons before narrowing his focus again to Chon’s deliberate, at times nonexistent advances toward Araceli. The balance between Tex-Mex dialogue and omniscient narration is handled with ease, and the sex-fueled moments—from blow-job scenes to relationships with minors—only add to the sensation of feeling stuck and limited in Greenton. There’s no clear explanation as to why the novel’s protagonist was given what’s typically a woman’s name meaning “immaculate conception.”
An atmospheric, refreshing read that will resonate with readers from towns both small and large. —Kirkus Review
- Kirkus Review, July 1, 2015  Visit Website
BookPage
This is a searing, mature novel, not just because sexual scenes (which are among the most complex and thoughtful moments in the book) are included, but in the way it handles the innumerable challenges associated with grief and love. With strains of Mexican-American heritage, this is also a fine diverse read.
BookPage Teen Top Pick, July 2015

Early in Seeing Off the Johns, author Rene S. Perez II gives us the key word in the story: onus — a burden or responsibility, often an unpleasant one.

Greenton is a small, dead-end town in 1998 Texas where no one expects greatness but some dream of it nonetheless. As the novel opens, the entire town has showed up to bestow well wishes upon their two hometown heroes, John Robison and John Mejia, athletic superstars who are headed to UT Austin. But the Johns never make it to the university — their car flips en route, and the two are killed.

Perhaps the only person in Greenton who didn’t see off the Johns was Concepcion “Chon” Gonzales, who has been waiting nearly his entire life for John Mejia to get out of dodge so he can take a shot at Mejia’s girlfriend, Araceli. As cold and insensitive as it sounds, death has made Chon’s dreams come true, and he finds relief from resentment as he finally pursues his dream girl. But like a child who learns the world doesn’t pause while he sleeps, Chon begins to recognize the crushing unfairness and ugliness of death’s gift. Mejia’s parents’ grief becomes Araceli’s unwanted burden, and the citizens of Greenton turn to her, watching her reaction as if it were a barometer for their own. Chon, whose full name essentially translates to sex, evolves beyond both his shallow, lustful desire for Araceli and his pursuit of some kind of machismo protector status, and he eventually finds the capacity to connect — with Araceli and his community — and acknowledge the tragedy in the Johns’ passing.

Loss, and our response to it, is no simple thing. This is a searing, mature novel, not just because sexual scenes (which are among the most complex and thoughtful moments in the book) are included, but in the way it handles the innumerable challenges associated with grief and love. With strains of Mexican-American heritage, this is also a fine diverse read. —Cat Acree, BookPages
- Cat Acree, July 1, 2015  Visit Website
Booklist Online
Though the context of [Rene] Perez’s first novel is Mexican American, Chon’s longings are universal, ones every reader can identify with … the novel achieves its goal of bringing two appealing teens and their relationship to vivid life.
Thanks to their athletic prowess, the two Johns — Mejias and Robison — own the hearts and minds of their one-stoplight hometown of Greenton, Texas. But on their way to the University of Texas in Austin and greater glory, both phenoms are killed in a truck accident. A tragedy, and yet not everyone is devastated by it: Chon, for one, isn’t, as his former girlfriend, the beautiful Araceli, was stolen away by Mejias. Chon wonders if their relationship is fated to remain a simple friendship, or if now he might be able to win her back. Though the context of Perez’s first novel is Mexican American, Chon’s longings are universal, ones every reader can identify with. If there is a fault with the novel, it is that it can be too detailed; Perez has a habit of telling readers more than they need to know, slowing the pace of the narrative. That aside, however, the novel achieves its goal of bringing two appealing teens and their relationship to vivid life.
- Michael Cart, October 1, 2015  Visit Website
Midwest Book Review
Seeing Off the Johns is an absolutely absorbing and deftly crafted novel that clearly establishes author Rene Perez as a master of the YA Fiction genre. Very highly recommended for both school and community library YA Fiction collections.”
People in the small town of Greenton mark their lives from that day in late summer when crowds lined the streets to see off high school athletic stars John Robison and John Mijias. That was the day the Johns, as they were known by adoring fans in Greenton, left for state college, and never made it there — or back. The Johns had spent their high school years putting that nowhere losing town on the map with playoff runs in football and state championship bids in baseball. For Concepcion “Chon” Gonzales, the days that the Johns headed out and didn’t return was the first day of his new life. He had waited all his growing up years for a shot at Araceli when one of the Johns, John Mejia, stole her away. Now, while Greenton mourns, while the Johns’ families become actors in a spectacle of grief, while Johns memorabilia is sold in every gas station and convenience store in town, while Araceli has to endure a senior year in the watchful gaze of the whole town, Chon Gonzales makes his slow methodical move on the only girl he’s ever loved, hoping maybe that she won’t notice what he wants.

“Seeing Off the Johns” is an absolutely absorbing and deftly crafted novel that clearly establishes author Rene Perez as a master of the YA Fiction genre. Very highly recommended for both school and community library YA Fiction collections, it should be noted for personal reading lists that “Seeing Off the Johns” is also available in a paperback edition (9781941026120, $11.95) and in a Kindle format ($7.99). —Mary Cowper, Midwest Book Review
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Lone Star Literary Life
Seeing Off the Johns is briskly and evenly paced. The deceptively simple plot allows the young people to take center stage and everyone who grew up in a small Texas town will recognize these personalities. They are allowed to stretch, to contract, and to mature, and it’s a pleasure to be along for the ride as Chon finds out how brave his heart really is.
Tiny, fictional Greenton, set in South Texas, “a one-stoplight town built on cattle and railroads and killed by bypasses and super-ranches,” doesn’t have much going for it. What Greenton does have are “two crown princes,” John Robison and John Mejias, high school baseball stars signed to play college ball for the University of Texas at Austin. The Johns graduated from high school twenty-four hours ago and now they’re dead, killed in a rollover accident on their way to Austin, shortly after a ceremonious departure complete with police escort to the city limits and banners strung across Main Street. Greenton is stunned, especially beautiful Araceli Monsevais, “Goddess of Greenton,” long-time girlfriend of Mejia. Concepcion “Chon” Gonzales has been in love with Araceli for as long as he can remember. Will the town let Araceli move on?

Seeing Off the Johns, a tough and touching coming of age novel by Rene S. Perez II, is an intuitive and rather sophisticated exploration of grief and loss and coping mechanisms, both individually and collectively, told in the language of small-town teenagers, through the lens of Araceli and Chon. We follow the progress, and lack thereof, made by Chon and Araceli and the entire town of Greenton over the next school year as they all attempt to assimilate the worst tragedy the town has ever experienced.

The parents of both Johns regret condoning “the hero-worship of two young men who were not yet done being boys.” The baseball coach fears that “the rest of his career would be defined in contrast to the four years he had with the Johns.” Teenagers sneak into the cemetery for a “late night fix of what-might-have-been.” Araceli struggles with survivor’s guilt and Chon worries that approaching Araceli in the aftermath of this tragedy makes him a “predator … an opportunist.”

Perez is multitalented. He writes funny when “Henry couldn’t write a paragraph or even conjugate most irregular verbs in Spanish but in decrying a puto, he was Neruda.” He writes teenage angst when Chon longs for “the doom-jazz mood of a rainy night”. And he can turn a phrase, riffing on Greenton’s high school, “a WPA-era building erected to look like a fallout shelter and a factory for the crop-cut future GIs who would come up in the last pure, pre-rock ’n’ roll of American youth.”

Seeing Off the Johns is briskly and evenly paced. The deceptively simple plot allows the young people to take center stage and everyone who grew up in a small Texas town will recognize these personalities. They are allowed to stretch, to contract, and to mature, and it’s a pleasure to be along for the ride as Chon finds out how brave his heart really is.

- Michelle Newby, November 3, 2015  Visit Website
School Library Journal
This authentic story of loss is powerful and one that many readers will not forget.
In Greenton, TX, everything revolves around the Johns, the two star baseball and football players in the local high school. Everyone in town even wakes up before dawn to come out and send them off to college and wish them luck. When a tragic accident occurs, resulting in their untimely deaths, everything changes, especially for 16-year-old Chon Gonzales. Chon is a somewhat average teen working a dead-end job in a gas station and occasionally hooking up with an older female coworker. He’s looking to get out of his small town and win over Araceli, the girl of his dreams who used to date one of the Johns. Chon struggles with his desire to pursue a relationship with Araceli as well as the feeling that he is possibly taking advantage of a bad situation for his personal benefit. Perez captures the spirit of small-town USA and the high school football culture that often dominates. The protagonist and his friends all have authentic teen voices, and the author never shies away from colorful profanity and somewhat explicit sex talk. Perez briefly follows up with some of the members of the town throughout the story to show how the loss of the Johns affects them in ways big and small. The last chapter jumps forward in time to see how Chon and his relationships with his friends and lovers are resolved. This authentic story of loss is powerful and one that many readers will not forget. VERDICT A well-told story of life in a small town that will resonate with older teen readers. –Christopher Lassen, BookOps: The New York Public Library and Brooklyn
- School Library Journal, November 1, 2015  Visit Website

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