B.H. James is the author of Parnucklian for Chocolate and co-author of Method to the Madness: A Common Core Guide to Creating Critical Thinkers through the Study of Literature.
Parnucklian for Chocolate was a finalist for the 2014 PEN Center USA Literary Award for Fiction. James’s play adaption of the novel, titled Alien Abductions, Typically Speaking, was a finalist for Monologue Bank’s 2020 New American Voices Playwriting Festival as well as B Street Theatre’s 2019 New Comedies Festival.
James has taught English at Franklin High School in Stockton, CA for fourteen years.
Method to the Madness: A Common Core Guide to Creating Critical Thinkers through the Study of Literature
Publisher: Rowman and Littlefield
Publication Date: March 2016
Parnucklian for Chocolate
Finalist, 2014 PEN Center USA Literary Award for Fiction
Publisher: Red Hen Press
Publication Date: March 2013
Publisher’s Weekly 1/14/13
The gradual awakening of a teenager whose mom protects him with a fanciful story reveals an unnecessarily cruel world. Josiah grows up believing, as his mother tells him, that he is the product of an alien abduction from the planet Parnuckle, whose inhabitants eat chocolate, never sleep, and don’t need to bathe. But when he and his mother move in with her new boyfriend, Johnson Davis, Johnson grows concerned about Josiah’s abnormal development— particularly after his daughter Bree, a rebellious teenager, crawls into bed with Josiah and begins to figure in his fantasies, to the alarm of both parents. Josiah clings to the story of Parnuckle, now a place to which he and Bree plan to escape, even as his new stepfather tries to convince him that the planet isn’t real. Tantalizing hints surrounding Josiah’s mother’s background aside, her absence as a complete character—her name is never even revealed—makes her stories that much more puzzling. Her inability to take responsibility for her son’s problems tears the family apart more permanently than Josiah’s bad behavior.
Review by Michael Cart
Sixteen-year-old Josiah is special. His father, a space alien, is the Keymaster of Gozer, a high position on the planet Parnuckle. Or so his mother has always told him. Routinely announcing this, the boy has socialization problems at the several schools he attends, and things don’t get any better when he and his mother move in with the mother’s fiancée, Johnson Davis, and Josiah falls in love with Johnson’s troubled daughter, Bree. In the meantime, Josiah decides his real mother is the singer Cher, who is a goddess on Parnuckle! A classic naïf, Josiah is reminiscent of Chauncey Gardner in Jerzy Kozinski’s satirical novella, Being There (1970). First novelist James seems to have similar satirical intent in his treatment of family and the condition, in Josiah’s case, of being an outsider. James’ deadpan, affectless style underscores that intent and adds a leavening of humor to his wacky premise. Though the novel falls apart at the end, the story is engaging and sufficiently offbeat to hold the reader’s attention throughout.
Library Journal 3/15/13
Review by Joanna Burkhardt
Josiah was told that his father was an important official from a planet called Parnuckle. Through his childhood Josiah wrote letters to the man, giving them to his mother to mail. Sometimes his father replied. Josiah had trouble at school when he told classmates and teachers who he was and where he was from. As the trouble escalated, the boy was sent to a group home and was eventually released into the custody of his mother and her fiancé, Johnson Davis. Davis’s daughter Bree immediately starts to take advantage of Josiah and his extreme naïveté, introducing him to sex, drugs, and alcohol in the space of just a few weeks. When Josiah’s “real” father appears at his door, light finally dawns for Josiah. VERDICT: James, an English teacher, has published in various journals, but this is his first novel. His prose is convoluted. His characters are absurd. Yet this silly story has a charm all its own and infers that we are all, maybe, a little bit crazy. It will appeal to readers of the absurd and to those who appreciate comic coming-of-age stories.
Foreword Reviews 5/31/13
Review by Leia Menlove
“Three weeks before his sixteenth birthday, Josiah was allowed to move back in with his mother, who had been impregnated with him during an alien abduction her freshman year of college.”
So begins Parnucklian for Chocolate, a pitch-black story about growing up in an alienating world as, well, an alien. Young Josiah’s mother is deeply disturbed, having taught him that his father lives on planet “Parnuckle.” Josiah has (no surprise) spent years with Child Protective Services. When he is released, the pitfalls of teenagerdom and the conniving, nymphette daughter of his mother’s fiancé await. We follow Josiah and his new family into a comical pit of madness that is increasingly terrifying as the stakes rise.
Josiah’s yearnings for love, home and father are even more poignant when set against his polluted notion of reality (he even believes his true mother is “the Goddess Cher”) and disrupted family life. One day he will have a family, he uses, and “live with them, all together … and none of them would ever have to leave that home.” Young adult and adult readers will enjoy this crazy, sad ride into alien adolescence.
New Pages 8/1/13
Review by Courtney McDermott
B.H. James, a high school English teacher from California, wrangles his knowledge of teenagers into the inventive coming-of-age novel Parnucklian for Chocolate. In stark, self-conscious language, the author navigates parenting, psychiatric facilities, and what it means to not quite belong in your family—a feeling not alien to most teenagers.
Protagonist Josiah is part Parnucklian. At least this is what his mother has told him his entire life—that she was abducted in college by his alien father, who is from the planet Parnuckle. The novel opens on the heels of Josiah’s sixteenth birthday, as he moves back in with his mother and her new fiancé, Johnson Davis, after having spent time in a group home. Suddenly, Josiah is expected to learn new habits and explain his oddities in what is considered a “normal” home life:
Josiah first met Johnson Davis’s daughter Bree four days after moving into the home of Johnson Davis. Having decided at eleven years old that if he ever grew up and had people that he loved he would live with them all together in his home, Josiah thought that Bree, whom he thought was pretty, liking the way that she looked in her soccer uniform, may be someone he could love and have a family with and live all together with in a home, and by the end of that night, he was sure of it.
Josiah craves a sense of normalcy, and yet there is no hope of him getting it in this “family.” What is most amusing and ironic about Parnucklian for Chocolate is how Josiah ends up being the least alien of the characters. His mother’s inability to parent—the invention of Parnuckle in the first place—makes her one of the most bizarre characters in the novel. She completes Josiah’s homeschooling homework, only feeds him chocolate (because that’s what Parnucklians eat), and slaps him when he uncovers details about his real father. It’s no wonder that Josiah imagines that his real mother must be a Parnucklian goddess that looks like Cher.
Johnson Davis, the strict, “normal” stepfather, is almost robot-like in his regimen and “[l]ike the Greeks” in his child-rearing practices. Josiah was put in a group home for indiscriminately peeing on things around the house, and though his chocolate diet and lack of knowledge about the English equivalent for words (he thinks an Andre Agassi is a penis, for example) make him odd and amusing, in the end James reveals that Josiah may have the clearest sense of reality, after all. Imagination is Josiah’s most powerful protection; where his mother uses imagination to hide the truth about Josiah’s father, Josiah uses his imagination to make the most of his present situation.
Though Josiah is quirky, the greater interest of the story lies in Bree’s character, Josiah’s soon-to-be stepsister and love interest. She is evidence that even the “best” home life can alienate people. She is at times seductive, manipulative, cunning, bold—all to mask her vulnerability. Yet she is selfish, and by the end, no different than she was before. Bree is an Eve character—tempting and raw, but sex seems to be her only weapon, which lessened my empathy for her. In constructing Bree, it would have enhanced her character to use more than just sex and smoking pot to get across the message that she is stumbling through life trying to find her place. There is little original about Bree’s character, though her quick quips and colorful personality at least make scenes with her interesting.
James writes in long, meandering sentences, and the use of Johnson Davis’s full name and the technique of writing about things through an outsider’s perspective lend themselves to this tale of an “alien” child. However, some of these techniques felt like tricks, and though used consistently, were overwrought. In a short story, James’s style would have thrived and heightened narrative tension, but in the novel length they were exhausting. There is almost a staccato-like rhythm to James’s sentences, and repetition of names and information is reminiscent of Gertrude Stein, perhaps. This repetition, and distance that it creates, allows James to reveal disturbing scenarios—like the truth about Josiah’s father and mother—as though he is holding them out at a safe distance with a pair of tongs, far enough away to be examined without being discomfiting.
“Birth Plan” Watershed Review, Fall 2017
“A Choice” Los Angeles Review Issue 16, January 2015
“The Anti-Story” The Subtopian Magazine, August 2014
“Buckets” Marco Polo Arts Mag, Spring 2013
“Parnucklian for Chocolate” Leaf Garden Issue 11, November 2010
“Admitting It” Foliate Oak October 2008
“From Me to You” The Duck and Herring Co. Pocket Field Guide, Winter 2008-2009
“Lonely Days are Gone” Mississippi Crow Issue 7, November 2008
“A Paper Clipped Life” Cause and Effect Issue 10, August 2008
“The Anti-Story” The Subtopian Selected Shorts Volume 2, May 2015
“Dismantled” Seahorse Rodeo Folk Review Best Acts of 2010
“Admitting It” Foliate Oak Best of 2008