By Karen Valby
April 27, 2011 at 04:00 AM EDT

In Zanesville

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In her magnificent essay collection, The Boys of My Youth, Jo Ann Beard nailed the intensity and wonder of childhood. She taps back into that teen spirit in her debut novel, In Zanesville, set in an Illinois factory town in the 1970s. The coming-of-age material is familiar: the panic that accompanies the first sight of a tampon; the drowsy-making thrill of a boy’s hand creeping up your back; the impotent worry over a broken parent. And yet somehow Beard makes the daily rituals and discoveries of her nameless 14-year-old narrator and her best friend Felicia (”Flea”) epic and profound. These thoughtful, funny, awestruck, slightly peculiar girls are so endearing, so painfully true, that they almost make a reader wish she were back in high school so she could be friends with them. A

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