“Redmen calmly trotted from the entrance to the mine, the frame rate slowing considerably when the dynamite exploded, showering the entire canyon with dust, pebbles, and lead. The hero failed to twitch, the eruption not enough to sway his stride, his head hung low in reverence. The theater burst into raucous applause. His trusty horse waited for him, the saddlebags choking with gold bars. ‘Come on Roach,’ he said slyly, patting the beast’s mane. ‘Let’s pay our respects to the dead.’ Honking horns and a twangy piano reprised the main theme as he trotted towards the horizon, the simmering sun in no danger of setting.”
Synopsis: Jojo, an obsolete android, and Pickles, a chonky pup, are set on the course of adventure when a bomb destroys the remainder of their home. Alone in the world, Jojo must lead them to find their lost family through a war-torn wasteland. Jojo must use every ounce of wit and gumption at his disposal if they are to survive. JQR is a touching story about a boy and his dog, the ravages of war and, most importantly, love.
It’s a great pleasure to finally be able to present my review for this text, as I’ve been reading it for a few weeks now (for me, this is a long read…). This isn’t due to the length of the text(though at 800-ish pages, it clocks in a little heavy), but rather because I wanted to give it the attention it is due; I was captivated, and wanted to give it the proper attention. Something I’ve been enjoying about writing for this website is that I’ve had the opportunity to learn about/read many new and diverse authors; this isn’t to say that I would not have done so on my own, but the pace perhaps would not have been quite as fast. When Rodriguez presented me with a review copy (in exchange for a fair and honest review, as always), I was delighted to hear the synopsis. I enjoy sci-fi texts, but my tastes lean far more heavily towards fantasy. A story about an android boy and his dog (and a corgi no less!) though? I’m hooked.
This story begins in what appears to be American suburbia, set after a terrible catastrophe (of the atomic variety), as our intrepid heroes escape the ruins of their former home and set off on a quest to find their family. Rodriguez does a wonderful job with his world-building, taking great pains to describe every gritty detail of his post-apocalyptic tragedy. It’s certainly a strong point, and the quality of the author’s prose is excellent overall. As one reads, it’s not hard to picture the horror and devastation in their mind’s eye. Rodriguez paints a very vivid picture. If attention to detail is your thing, you’ll be very, very happy. Setting isn’t the only aspect of this tale to get ample attention though: large chunks of the story take place in elaborate flashbacks, sometimes from the point of view of Jojo’s father (a WWII vet), and sometimes from the perspective of others (whom I will not mention in an effort to avoid spoiling things for you, reader). Description of the Japanese was very well done, and Rodriguez actually took pains to write out the accurate Japanese dialogue phonetically in numerous instants. It all works. I strongly urge taking one’s time in reading this text, as Rodriguez crams a lot of detail into it, and does not necessarily spoon-feed you the answers. There are secrets here, and certain things only become clearer as one dives deeper into the story. If there’s something that seems off to you: keep reading.
Jojo is a fascinating character: while he is a nearly obsolete android model and fits in with the tired old sci-fi trope of “defining humanity”, he never ceases to be endearing. Jojo approaches the world, ravaged and cold as it is, with all the gusto of a young child. No matter what horrors get thrown at him, Jojo maintains a positive attitude and unwavering faith that he will see his family again. This is not presented in the same way one would see it in some stereotypical hero (though Jojo certainly looks up to some cinematic influences); it is just the unshakable confidence of a youth who has not yet grown jaded with the world. It is uplifting and moving, and one cannot help but smile at it.
The secondary cast is small but effective. Pickles is an amusing and effective foil for Jojo as her pampered demeanor and prodigious belly often lead her astray, forcing our protagonist into certain responsibilities. Pickles is comedic relief, for certain, but she is a means by which Jojo can develop and grow throughout the novel. Ren is also surprisingly effective given the amount of “screen-time” they have in “JQR”. Where Jojo is devoid of negativity, a beacon of hope for the future, Ren is introduced as the embodiment of humanity’s self-serving nature. They make a great counterpoint to our hero, and their character development is a high point of the novel. The relationship which develops between Ren and Jojo is one of my favorites from recent memory.
Thematically, I spent a great deal of time thinking about this novel. After some time, I realized that while this story deals with such sci-fi tropes as androids and the nature of humanity, it is at its core a Western. To be more specific, I see this tale as an homage to Cormac McCarthy’s “The Road”. Allow me to elaborate. Cited from Wikipedia: “The American Film Institute defines Western films as those ‘set in the American West that [embody] the spirit, the struggle and the demise of the new frontier.'” “The demise of the new frontier” is an apt description for Jojo’s odyssey, or at least for what came before. Rodriguez frequently reminds of of Jojo’s heroes, fictional characters in the Western films of old, and Jojo regularly expresses their exaggerated mannerisms. “JQR” shares a great deal with “The Road” specifically:
- Paternal Love, a central theme in McCarthy’s classic, is everywhere in JQR. It is Jojo’s father who gives the boy the skills he needs to get through his great journey, and his backstory reveals more of this through the course of the novel.
- Much like McCarthy’s “boy”, Jojo is more apt to trust strangers than his father. His innocence and naivete are to be protected, and his journey tests these principles sorely.
- Humanity and Survival are ideas present throughout the text, and often counterbalance each other. Jojo often chooses to trust those it may not be wise to… but perhaps this says something about his “humanity”.
There are many, many more examples of this but I will refrain from going into too much detail; suffice it to say that I was impressed and intrigued by these similarities. Despite these connections, the narrative told here is it’s own thing, and hits all the right notes. If you’re into Western aesthetic in your stories, this one won’t steer you wrong.
Overall, I found this to be a highly enjoyable read. My primary critique would have to be the length. To be clear, I often read through 1000 page monsters; In this case, I simply feel that some of the (admittedly well-written) fluff could have been cut down significantly, and the leaner result would have made for a cleaner and more engaging experience. This should not in any way hinder you from giving this book a chance though! I am absolutely glad I did. It’s important that we support talented authors like this when we can and, hopefully, allow them to continue bringing us great works such as JQR.
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