The Mostly True Story of Jack Hardcover – Aug 2 2011
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* "Truly splendid...the ultimate page-turner."
―Kirkus Reviews, starred review
* "Suspense builds steadily, with twists and surprises woven throughout, and friendship emerges as a powerful theme....Barnhill explores the struggle between good and evil and the power of love and sacrifice, creating a provocative and highly original mystery."―Publishers Weekly, starred review
* "Wonderful in the best possible way: filled with wonders and magic, yes, but magic that is ancient, numinous, and tied to the natural world...Barnhill's first novel for children is a marvel of both plotting and characterization, and it provides a foundation for the omnipresent magic that elevates this title to the first rank of contemporary children's literature."―Booklist, starred review
* "A compelling story with genuine characters and a deliciously creepy atmosphere. The suspense builds from the very first page...This delightful story will captivate readers with its blend of magic, mystery, and adventure."―VOYA, starred review
"There's a dry wit and playfulness to Barnhill's writing that recalls Lemony Snicket and Blue Balliett...a delightfully unusual gem."―The Los Angeles Times
"Richly atmospheric, this folklorically flavored tale offers a strangely pleasing combination of midwestern charm and hauntingly creepy Tim Burton-like imagination. Barnhill reveals just enough of Hazelwood's many secrets to keep the readers gripped, and the perfectly timed pacing makes for a quick and accessible read."―The Bulletin
About the Author
Kelly Barnhill is a poet and writer who also wrote The Witch's Boy and Iron Hearted Violet. The Mostly True Story of Jack, her debut novel, received four starred reviews. Kelly lives in Minnesota with her husband and three children.
Top Customer Reviews
This is the story of Jack a young boy who has always felt invisible, even in his own family. But when his parents are going through a separation he is sent to live with family in Hazlewood, Iowa to live with his aunt and uncle. And he no longer seems invisible, in fact everyone one seems to see him and want him for something. He makes friends for the first time with Frankie, Wendy and Anders. He is also beaten up by the town bully Clayton Avery. Clayton's farther MR. Avery is the most powerful man in town and he seems to have it out for Jack from the time he becomes aware he is in town.
This is a story about friendship, about healing, about magic and about finding your place in the world. Jack encounters each of those elements and as the story progresses it also becomes a tale about sacrifice. Sacrifice for a greater good, for those you care about, for friendship and for doing what is right even if it is really really hard.
This was a great read. I highly enjoyed it and can also highly recommend it. One of the greatest compliments I can give a book is my plans to share it with my children when they are older. This book is on that shelf waiting to be read again this time with them. Overall a very good book!
Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
While the storyline and message of the book is that things are complicated, I don't feel like the characters were very deep or complicated on their own. I found the emotions in this book a bit dry, and the relationships sort of stale. I can't put my finger on exactly why I feel this way, but an example would be the relationship between Jack and his uncle Clive. The reader can tell that Clive adores and cares for Jack, but Jack doesn't ever really reciprocate that affection anywhere in the story and Clive never really expresses it either. That is just one example; even the most personable characters like tomboy Wendy and school-bully Clayton lack scenes/interactions that would leave them a bit more memorable. With that said, there are many likable characters, I just don't feel I know or understand them individually very well.
(Mild spoilers below)
I can't help but pick up clues throughout the book that beg the reader to understand Barnhill's point, which is: life is complicated, people are complicated, good and evil can be complicated. You see... once upon a time, there was a single keeper of magic, something happened and her persona was split into two - both Good and Evil. The Good half grows stronger with laughter and joy of others, while the Evil half quickly steals souls for strength. Would that someone could join these two forces back together as they once were, so balance can once again be restored. The hope is that these two separate halves of the same person will join together again so that She can be "whole, complicated, and real... [Having] the same struggles of right and wrong, just like you and me." (P. 318) I am not sure I completely agree with this premise, but it is certainly deep enough to keep a book group talking for hours. Someone must stand in the "gap between good and evil" (P. 300) and help the two unite. That certainly is some deep material for children to read, and the whole complicated idea of black and white and gray is something that few youngsters can comprehend. I do applaud Barnhill for trying, think her story was interesting, and the descriptive writing fantastic. I guess I just wish there was a bit more depth to the interactions between characters that would support the complicated theme a little more than what I found.
The plot line is definitely unique, I can't say I've read another book like it, ever (and I've read hundreds of books in my lifetime). I was really impressed at the way that Barnhill slowly revealed bits and pieces of the puzzle, which kind of makes the book a mystery, but it doesn't really feel like one. This would be a great book to hand to kids who want a mystery, but not a formulaic one.
Being a geography fan, setting is something I pay a great deal of attention to. Here, once again, Barnhill excels. The reader quickly gets a feel for this town that is in some ways like any other small town, but in other ways very unique. Here's an example,
It was an old wooden farmhouse with a large porch, wide windows, and a small round porthole at the roof's peak. And it was purple. A deep, rich purple so intense it almost seemed to vibrate. Jack squinted. The front door was bright green and the trim of each window was painted a different color: red, yellow, orange, and blue.
You have to admit, that is a very intriguing description of the house that Jack comes to stay in. The reader realizes almost immediately that this is an unusual house. Barnhill has taken the regular world around us and given it a very interesting twist.
The characters I had a hard time with at first. Jack, who has spent most of his life being semi-invisible, has little interest in this new place or the people who live there, at least not at first. I found this hard to relate to, probably because I find the world a fascinating place. But slowly as I read, I realized that Jack was doing what many of us do when faced with changes that shake the very foundations of everything we though we knew. He was trying to ignore it. Of course, he eventually realizes the futility of this.
As I continued to read, I also began to connect with the other characters, Wende, the girl who is so determined to find out everything she can so she can protect those she loves. Frankie, the boy with the scars, both inside and out, whom everyone underestimates. Interestingly, I also started to feel compassion for the 'villain' of the story and his bully son. There aren't a lot of books, where I feel sorry for the villain. This happens to be one of them.
It turns out that this is one of the best books I've read this year and definitely worthy of Newbery consideration. I highly recommend it for all who enjoy interesting characters, an interesting setting, and a willingness to accept the weird. I'm thinking I might try it as a read-a-loud with my fifth graders. There is certainly much that is worthy of discussion.
As for Jack himself, it hasn't really occurred to him just how strange his own life is: the kids at school, bus drivers, even his own parents tend to forget about him. But the experience intensifies when his mother drops him off. Afterwards, he tries to call her or his father, but he can never get through. He writes a letter, but the words disappear from the paper before he can get to the mailbox as his uncle's two big cats watch him far too knowingly.
On the other hand, Jack makes friends for the first time, with Anders, Mabel, and (sort of) Frankie. But town bully Clayton Avery tries to beat him up, and Clayton's wealthy father apparently wants to kill Jack. Why?
Kelly Barnhill's book is a fantasy, but it is also a mystery, its suspense building as we try to understand who Jack is and why he matters to so many different people. The other mystery is what happened to Frankie, who disappeared for a time and then was rescued by Jack's uncle. During the period when he was missing, people tended to forget he had ever existed. He's not the only one--others also disappeared and were instantly forgotten, mostly children who vanished from the old schoolhouse.
Things are going to get a lot worse before Jack finds the answers he needs...
Branhill's clear style, her well-drawn characters, and a sense of emotional nuance add to the success of her storytelling. Here's an excerpt:
"His glasses itched terribly under his nose, but when he tried to adjust them, he realized that he couldn't move his right arm. Or his left. Tendrils of grass and ivy slithered along his side. They twined around his ankles and wrists and held him tight.
'What's going on?' Jack squeaked, but a wave of moss covered his chest and a tangle of roots pulled him into darkness. 'Help me!' he yelled, 'Somebody help me!' And in that last second--when the sky above him was reduced to a spot the size of the head of a pin--only one thought remained:
For kids who like mysteries as well as fantasy, The Mostly True Story of Jack will be a captivating summer read.
Jack is feeling especially overlooked lately. In the wake of his busy parents' separation, he's being trucked off from San Francisco to tiny Hazelwood, Iowa, to stay with relatives he doesn't even know, in a house that doesn't seem quite right. It seems to ripple as soon as he enters it, and all his attempts to reach his mother and father by phone or mail are instantly foiled --- maybe even by the house itself.
"Jack had a dream that the house was made of eyes --- heavy lashed and pretty, but eyes nonetheless. Eyes that followed his every move, winked at his jokes, and welled up with tears for no good reason.... And the eyes sang. Or maybe the house sang. In either case, it was beautiful, both hopeful and lonely all at once."
The mysterious old house isn't the only thing that's registered Jack's presence, though; the town's secretive and distrustful residents seem to have expected his coming with a mix of anticipation and apprehension. There's Wendy Schumacher and her brother Frankie, for example. Frankie hasn't been the same since he disappeared for a time, returning home scarred in more ways than one. And there's Mr. Avery, the wealthiest man in town, who seems to despise Jack even before he meets him.
Jack can't quite get a handle on Hazelwood, and his uncle Clive's copy of The Secret History of Hazelwood only raises more questions than it answers. When will this pragmatic city kid, who despises fairy tales and only wants to be seen, start to see the magic that surrounds him...and that is deeply interwoven with both his past and his future?
It's hard to believe that THE MOSTLY TRUE STORY OF JACK is Kelly Barnhill's first novel. Self-assured and deftly plotted, its mystery and magic unfold gradually, inviting readers to explore the secret history of Hazelwood along with Jack, to uncover the complicated histories that belong to each of us --- and perhaps to Jack most of all. The book adeptly blends the realistic --- Jack's attempts to ride a skateboard, his desperate desire to overcome his parents' divorce and find real friends --- with the fantastic. It is thoughtful and bittersweet, yet a real page-turner, the perfect introduction to a promising new talent.
Reviewed by Norah Piehl
We follow Jack and Wendy and Frankie and Anders in this town where magic erupts in certain places, such as that of the old schoolhouse where many children disappeared in the past and Jack's Aunt and Uncle's house which warms to Jack's touch and where vines grow into his bedroom. They must stop Mr. Avery, who really is not a bad person, he only wants to save his own son. In the end, it is all up to Jack.
I really enjoyed the uniqueness of this story. So many fantasies have the same plot line. This one is pleasantly different.
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