My Name’s Not Jenny by Jeannine Lokey
What’s it About?
The novel reads like a memoir as it documents the untimely and prolonged health crisis of Anna Scott, diagnosed with cancer in her forties.
Jeannine Lokey’s debut novel My Name’s Not Jenny: An Unconventional Journey is an unconventional book. Based on a true story, the novel reads like a memoir as it documents the untimely and prolonged health crisis of Anna Scott, diagnosed with cancer in her forties. Her devoted banker husband, Joseph, and Jillian, a banker friend of Joseph’s, make herculean efforts to fashion a life that has meaning and love for all three of them.
Jeannine Lokey details the progression of Anna’s cancer and the intricacies of finding in-home assisted living that is effective and trustworthy. Lokey also addresses the two love stories — Anna and Joseph’s marriage and the relationship that develops between Joseph and Jillian — in a way that compels us to turn pages and broaden our sense of the complicated issues facing families whose loved ones are robbed of a normal life by hopeless medical diagnoses.
A Complicated Love Story
With the story divided into 15 parts, Lokey launches the emotional crux of the story in part one — entitled Shall I Stay Or Should I Go? — where Jillian has ignored her demanding job to get deep into caring for Anna’s physical needs and Joseph’s emotional ones, helping with everything from wheelchair training to diapers. Then one night, as they prepare for dinner, Anna experiences a stroke-like episode where she loses speech and movement. As her life hangs in the balance, Joseph races home from work and takes over, leaving Jillian to swim in “confusion…jealousy… empathy versus guilt…feeling powerless, watching HER Joseph attend to HIS Anna.”
A mostly chronological tale then ensues against a satisfying backstory of the Anna-Joseph relationship and marriage. As a 15-year-old student brand new to Long Beach High School in southern California, Anna Couey is thrilled to have a secret admirer. Joseph Scott drops a piece of wrapped candy on Anna’s desk every day for several weeks before they finally meet, and when they do, it’s true love.
They marry, make a life and raise a son in Orange County, California, but when Anna is diagnosed with cancer — of the breast and then the brain — Joseph moves himself and Anna to the college town of San Luis Obispo, north of Los Angeles. As his banking career advances with promotions and extensive travel, Joseph stays devoted to Anna’s care, but often at his wit’s end.
Jillian and Joseph meet by happenstance at a commercial loan training class in San Francisco. As they become friends, Joseph aids Jillian in recognizing and escaping from an abusive marriage to her second husband. Jillian moves to a neighborhood near Joseph and Anna. To return Joseph’s kindness she begins to check in on Anna during his extensive work travel.
Jillian’s relationship with Anna does not come easy. Jillian must earn Anna’s trust while educating herself on how to best give the physical care Anna needs when no one else is around to do it. As Jillian’s relationship with Joseph develops beyond friendship Jillian takes pains to assure Anna that her role as Mrs. Scott has not been usurped and address her concerns with honesty and sensitivity.
Bravery in the Face of Illness
As Anna’s health deteriorates in unpredictable ways, the process of getting twenty-four-hour in-home care is not as simple as making a phone call and having the perfect caregivers show up. One set of caregivers turns out to be homeless, another prefers to ignore Anna’s post-surgery issues and the need to make her feel safe. As the friendship deepens between Jillian and Anna, Jillian becomes relentless in her search for the best caregivers she can find, and generous in training them with exactly what needs to be done.
Lokey’s characters are well drawn. We see Anna’s bravery in the face of impossible diagnoses, Joseph’s tireless devotion to a wife who can give him little back, and Jillian’s immense resourcefulness in keeping Anna alive and comfortable.
Lokey gives honest and clear-eyed details of keeping a loved one comfortable and alive when their medical condition worsens at a steady pace. Involved as Lokey was in the real story, she concludes that open and honest communication between loved ones nurtures the most unbreakable bonds. My Name’s Not Jenny: An Unconventional Journey is a thought-provoking read, as the unconventional solutions it describes prompt us to envision and consider what choices we ourselves would make in similar circumstances.
Publish Date: 11/24/2020
Author: Jeannine Lokey
Page Count: 354 pages