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Book Review: Walk Until Sunrise

Walk Until Sunrise. J.J. Maze. Page Publishing, Inc., November 15, 2017, Trade Paperback and E-book, 230 pages.

Reviewed by Gerry Souter.

J. J. Maze’s memoir, Walk Until Sunrise, is a visceral tale of a girl’s journey from childhood to late teenage years. The story, and the older-than-her-years voice of the narrator, create a world like that of Holden Caulfield in Catcher in the Rye and Jack Kerouac in On the Road.

Maze opens the book with a combination of trauma and self-reflection: 

“I broke down in Las Cruces, New Mexico.

“Making one last feeble attempt to join in, to partake of, to affiliate myself with civilization, I politely responded in the affirmative to a young bohemian-looking photographer leaning against his green van. He wanted to take pictures of me down by the Rio Grande River. I was highly amused at my ability to actually be flattered by this invitation in spite of . . . and how willingly and instantaneously I reverted to my overdramatic level of angst-ridden teenage vanity and self-consciousness. Oh, my gawd! My hair wasn’t done, and the faded yellow T-shirt with the peeling parrot decal looked tacky! I must be okay . . . sane . . . perfectly fine if I was able to care about these things.”

The author—called “Heather” by her fractured family—has every good reason to check on the state of her sanity. A light tan, mixed-race child in a fatherless household, with a fractured younger sister and dominated by a white mother, Heather is beautiful on the outside, but bipolar on the inside. Her mother fills the home with wall-to-wall anxiety and a string of sexual partners dragged home to beat the sheets, while Heather and Sis stay out of the way. Mom’s sexual appetites twist her perception, so that she sees Heather as a similarly sex-starved nymphomaniac requiring constant watching and discipline. 

Heather has a natural gift for music, but her lack of self-esteem, overshadowing self-doubt, and destructive self-punishment eventually drive her from home, hitch-hiking somewhere, anywhere.

Being on the road is nothing new for Heather. She had already experienced intervals of living with her mother and sister in their car after being driven from home due to her mother’s lack of rent money, eccentric behavior, and paranoid fears.

Following her departure from home, Heather hurls herself into a nomadic world of characters—good, bad and surreal—testing her sexuality and easing herself in and out of her chromium-plated shell of self-loathing/loving to blend in with various hippy, bohemian, life-affirming, amateur criminal situations into which she caroms like a pin-ball.

As with Holden and Kerouac, Heather’s internal dialog dwells between beat-down realities and thinly-crafted safety nets sustaining her ability to keep seeking a better place just down the block, down the road, or across the map.

Gradually, she hones her end game.  At the finish of her journal, having come full circle, she leaves the reader—like Holden and Kerouac—with an open-ended hope.

This is a riveting read and to anyone—like this reviewer—who has felt the road under foot and the wind at their back will find a kindred spirit in Heather in Walk Until Sunrise.


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