Book Reviews

Review: The Existence of Pity by Jeannie Zokan

This growing story is unique, fascinating, and respectful of the limitations of humanity. The best aspect is the main protagonist: empathetic, explorative, and loyal. You’ll be rooting for her in no time.


For Josie, this summer will be a summer of discovery and secrets, but not the ones she envisioned. Set in Cali, in the Andes mountains, Josie is the daughter of Baptist missionaries. But while her family is steadfast in their religion, Josie is what her aunt calls a ‘seeker’, someone who needs to be able to explore and question. So begins the summer of secrets, but the ones that Josie continues to hide are no longer her own.


The Existence of Pity will take most of you to a different world completely. I’m not only talking about the danger that lies beneath the surface in Colombia, but the hustle of the city and its people. Josie narrates the book herself and through her eyes we are able to witness both the danger and her love for her home. She feels like an outsider: to her family’s religion, to the Colombians, and in her family.

While Josie holds her own secrets, she is fiercely determined to unravel her family’s mysteries, especially when they hold danger of their own. Her character undergoes an intensely challenging time period where she is realizing her differences from her family and those around her. I was able to empathize her pain and loneliness, feeling like she is trapped and unable to be herself. That is truly the main strength of the novel, Josie’s personality, as it forms the foundation for how we understand the plot.

It’s a terrible burden for a child to be the keeper of her parents and family’s secrets as they can usually only bring pain. Josie is no exception and this role reversal is heart wrenching as Josie tries to save her family. And at the end, there are no clear cut answers. By the end of the novel, our opinions and feelings towards all of the Wales family is completely different, Josie included.

I don’t want to spoil the plot events, but all I can say is that while the ending saddened me, I felt that Zokan did a fantastic job at portraying human limitations. There are times when we cannot see what is important, make mistakes, and say cruel things. Her characters are no exception. I hope that by the end of reading this novel yourself, we can talk about how we feel about their actions and the meaning of the title. (Really, such a well thought out title!).

In conclusion,

Zokan’s novel will take you back: back to a time we felt misunderstood and alone, a time when we found out a terrible family secret, or a time we felt unfairly burdened with responsibility. I feel like I’ve been reading a few other books recently that deal with this situation, a summer of discovery, but that just speaks to the universal feelings we have, the conflicts with our families, and the painful challenges of growing up.

You can pick up a copy on Amazon, add it to Goodreads, or visit the author’s website.

Disclaimer: I received this book from the author in exchange for an honest review.


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