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Jennie's Boy

A Misfit Childhood on an Island of Eccentrics

Jennie's Boy Buy Now
Format Paperback Audiobook
ISBN 978-1-58642-362-9 978-1-58642-364-3
Published Feb 7, 2023
Imprint Steerforth Press
Category Biography & Memoir Cultural Destinations More Museums... Museums

The sad, tender, and extremely funny memoir of a boyhood few thought he would survive, including the unforgettable mother and hilarious grandmother who raised him

A book to be relished by lovers of such works as The Glass Castle, Don’t Let’s Go to the Dogs Tonight, and Angela’s Ashes

Everything readers love about consummate storyteller and beloved bestselling novelist Wayne Johnston’s work is on full display in Jennie’s Boy: incredible characters, brilliant language, and a deep sense of place.

Wayne’s family occupied a wreck of a house in Goulds, Newfoundland. Sickly and skinny, a relentless cough that no doctor could diagnose led to Wayne spending much of his time being moved from room to room or across the road to his grandparents’ house. He was diagnosed with a heart murmur, pleurisy, and a possible tapeworm.

The community knew him as “Jennie’s boy,” and his tiny, ferocious mother felt judged for Wayne’s condition, not to mention her husband’s propensity to “drink the rent.” While his brothers went off to school, and his parents to work, Wayne passed his days with his witty, deeply religious and eccentric maternal grandmother, Lucy, who kept a statue of the Blessed Virgin along with a photo of her son Leonard, who had died at seven.

Jennie’s Boy recalls a boyhood full of pain, laughter, tenderness, and the kind of wit that is peculiar to Newfoundlanders. By that wit, and by their love for each other — so often expressed in the most unloving ways — he, and they, survived.


While the book’s most apt comparison is likely Frank McCourt’s story of his Irish childhood in Limerick, Angela’s Ashes,” Jennie’s Boy” is, if anything, even more powerful: a compressed, restrained account of a life lived on the edge, not only in poverty, but at the cusp of mortality. A simple fishing trip, for example, becomes a near-tragic event, a life-shaping incident depicted with an emotional directness. Never overblown or sentimental, Jennie’s Boy” is as vivid as one’s own memories, a glimpse into a past of pain and wonder, of loss and joy."

--Toronto Star

All I have ever done," Wayne Johnston writes in Jennie's Boy, his account of growing up dirt-poor in Newfoundland, "is repeat what I was told." Be grateful for that: the result is a story so vibrant and detailed you don't read it so much as you race along and relive it, blow by staggering blow. The man is incapable of writing a dull sentence. The Johnstons of Newfoundland are poorer than Steinbeck's Joads, funnier than the McCourts of Angela's Ashes, and every bit as worthy as material. Which makes sense: there was no place on earth quite like bottomed-out Newfoundland, and there is no better book about it than this one. A brilliant and unforgettable story told by one of the masters of Canadian literature.

--Ian Brown

I have been a Wayne Johnston fan since my teens. His books are the ones that showed me that my own backyard was worth writing about. In Jennie’s Boy, a glorious tale of bedmobiles and jug baths drawn from his own life, he showed me what was behind closed doors just up the road from me. Like the best Newfoundland storytellers do, he made me laugh and then pause to think of how we can find love and joy in a most untraditional childhood.”

--Alan Doyle

Wayne Johnston’s childhood in Newfoundland was full of laughter, pain and poverty. And then laughter again. His memoir, Jennie’s Boy, is an uplifting account of a childhood not just survived—he came close to death too many times to count—but triumphed over. Thank god he lived to tell the tale.”

--Rick Mercer

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