Jitney Books: Yo-Yo

Published on December 22nd, 2021

David Rolland from The Jitney and author of Yo Yo!

Every kid learns how to operate a yo-yo, right? Some well enough to pull those super-sick “walk the dog” tricks or buzz a buddy’s nose before retracting the string with much flair. Or has a nation of screenagers with apps and Twitch accounts dropped the yo-yo in the discarded toy box?

Not Miami author (and PureHoney contributor) David Rolland. His new novel, “Yo-Yo,” puts the classic child’s plaything at the center of the action and joins the expanding catalog of a homegrown Miami publisher, Jitney Books.

Flash back 20 years: Bunking in his childhood home after graduating from college, unsure of his future, Rolland whiled away hours with an old yo-yo he’d found — and triggered a memory from his fifth-grade year at Key Biscayne Elementary School.

“My class was herded into the cafeteria for a ‘Say No to Drugs’ assembly and a 22-year-old yo-yoer stood on the stage doing tricks with an anti-drug message,” Rolland tells PureHoney. “At the end of the assembly all the kids were given out yo-yos that said ‘Key Biscayne Bank says no to drugs’ on them. I started wondering who was that guy and what became of him? And I let my imagination run wild.”

“That guy” has become one Benny James, a broken-hearted yo-yo performer adored by thousands across the world who fills a hole in his soul with ill-advised after-hours vigilantism. Benny follows in the tradition of Rolland’s other protagonists: A margarita-drunk Miami private investigator and scuba enthusiast, Frank Bengling, from 2012’s “Deadbeat”; and a listless California-to-Florida road tripper, Matt Traxler, from 2018’s “The End of the Century.”

“I suppose a writer can’t help but to put a bit of themselves in every character they create,” Rolland says. “With the protagonist that probably comes out exponentially so, since that’s who I spent the most time with. Rolland says his central characters sometimes function as reader proxies,  providing “contrast for all these crazy scenarios and characters that surround them.” As noted by his readers, Rolland’s main characters tend to hover on a “spectrum” diagnosis. This makes sense, Rolland notes, “since you would need to be almost supernaturally focused to be as good with a yo-yo as he is.”

Yo-Yo” arrives on an upswing for his publisher, Jitney Books founder J.J Colagrande. A novelist and full-time professor at Miami Dade College, Colagrande has multiple titles from Miami writers to his credit as well as a daily blog — which Rolland edits — covering arts, culture, politics and all things Miami. Jitney also published Joey Maya’s well-received punk rock memoir, “The Drummer of Miami Beach.”

The new Jitney release slate includes “The True Tales of Bad Benny Taggart,” a fractured coming-of-age story by Miami Beach-based Timothy Schmand; and Colagrande’s revised and expanded “Headz the Trilogy,” a novel combining literary analysis and celebration of music festival culture. Colagrande self-published “Headz” in 2011 and learned to sling it like merch, selling copies to fellow festivalgoers and continuing character stories online.

“Jitney Books’ new catalog is a perfect balance of Miami: weird, funny, sexy, entertaining, even seedy at times, but quality writing all around,” Colagrande tells PureHoney. “And Rolland’s book is the best I’ve read from him yet. It’s a great book that we’re very proud of and a fun read.”

Young Benny kapows his way through a künstlerroman of fame and fortune in a hero’s journey of sorts, traipsing through life, making mistakes, falling hopelessly in love and surviving reckless adventures with his trusty yo-yo always at hand. Rolland might not spark an old-toy revival but he’s made this one a literary instrument of possibilities and the object of an entertaining yarn.

“With ‘Yo-Yo’ I had certain scenarios I wanted my character in, certain actions I wanted him to take on,” Rolland says. “But part of the fun, maybe the only fun, in writing a book is the book going places you didn’t expect when you started.”

“Yo-Yo” is available at jitneybooks.com. ~ Abel Folgar