This Is Not the Jess Show

Book review by
Lucinda Dyer, Common Sense Media
This Is Not the Jess Show Book Poster Image
Reality isn't what it seems in this fast-paced thriller.

Parents say

No reviews yetAdd your rating

Kids say

No reviews yetAdd your rating

Did we miss something on diversity?

Research shows a connection between kids' healthy self-esteem and positive portrayals in media. That's why we've added a new "Diverse Representations" section to our reviews that will be rolling out on an ongoing basis. You can help us help kids by suggesting a diversity update.

A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this book.

Educational Value

Readers get a thought-provoking look (the upsides and downsides of fame) behind the scenes of a reality TV show.

Positive Messages

Truth is important in how we live our lives, while secrets and lies are destructive by nature.


Positive Role Models

Jess is nothing if not resilient and determined. When she discovers everything she knows is based on a lie and everyone she knows has been lying to her, she picks herself up emotionally and makes a plan to move her life forward.


A character is shot and wounded.


A newscaster quotes Bill Clinton's words, "I didn't have sex with that woman." A character is given the book Human Sexuality.


Some teens use strong language ("f—k," "s—t," "bulls—t," "dick," goddamn," "Jesus").


Lots of references to 1990s TV shows (Friends, Family Matters, Full House, Saved By the Bell, Beverly Hills 90210) and singers (Alanis Morissette, Fiona Apple, Jewel).

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

A few instances where teens smoke, drink (beer, wine, cocktails), and sometimes get drunk at parties.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Anna Carey's This Is Not the Jess Show is set  in 1998 …. except it really isn't. Jess Flynn thinks she's attending high school in the picture perfect town of Swickley, hanging out with her girlfriends and falling in love with a boy named Tyler. At home, she's fighting with her mother and constantly worrying about her younger sister, who's terribly ill. All that's true … sort of. Swickley is indeed picture perfect because it's the set for a long-running and hugely popular reality TV show and Jess is the only person in town who's not an actor. For years, the day to day life of Jess and everyone else in Swickley has been carefully scripted and filmed with hidden cameras. After Jess discovers the truth, she and one of the teen actors make a daring escape from the set with the show's producers in hot pursuit. There's some strong language ("f—k," "s—t," "goddamn") and a few instances where teens smoke and get drunk at parties.


User Reviews

  • Parents say
  • Kids say

There aren't any reviews yet. Be the first to review this title.

There aren't any reviews yet. Be the first to review this title.

What's the story?

It's 1998 in THIS IS NOT THE JESS SHOW, or so thinks 17-year-old Jess Flynn. She knows that Titanic has just won the Oscar and that Bill Clinton is president. What she doesn't know is about to upend her world. Jess has spent her whole life in the small town of Swickley. She dreams of going to UCLA for college, but she's pretty certain that will have to be on hold, as her 14-year-old sister, Sara, may be dying. She and her mother are constantly battling, and she's just realized she's falling in love with Tyler, her best friend. It's Tyler who tells her what's really happening in Swickley. He's an actor and everyone in town, other than Jess, are cast members in a hit reality TV show called Stuck in the 1990s. She barely has time to process all this when Sara "dies" and leaves the show. But Sara's left Jess a trail of clues to help her escape from the well guarded set. And escape Jess does, along with Patrick, one of the teen actors. But the show's producers launch a desperate nationwide search to find them and bring them back to Swickley.

Is it any good?

This page-turning blend of mystery, pop culture, and teen romance takes a hard look at the high price that can be paid for the pursuit of fame and celebrity. Some readers may find This Is Not the Jess Show takes a bit too long moving beyond what seems to be a rather cliche coming of age story. But they'll soon find that this "cliche" is a necessary dramatic setup for the rollercoaster of a reality-bending storyline that follows.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about how much the characters in This Is Not the Jess Show give up to be featured on the show. What do you think are the best things and the worst things about being a celebrity?

  • Would you ever want to be on a reality TV show? How real do you think they are? 

  • Have you ever felt betrayed by someone close to you? Were you able to repair the relationship?

Book details

Our editors recommend

For kids who love thrillers

Themes & Topics

Browse titles with similar subject matter.

Top advice and articles

Common Sense Media's unbiased ratings are created by expert reviewers and aren't influenced by the product's creators or by any of our funders, affiliates, or partners.

See how we rate

About these links

Common Sense Media, a nonprofit organization, earns a small affiliate fee from Amazon or iTunes when you use our links to make a purchase. Thank you for your support.

Read more

Our ratings are based on child development best practices. We display the minimum age for which content is developmentally appropriate. The star rating reflects overall quality.

Learn how we rate