Thursday, January 26, 2012

Review: The Mostly True Story of Jack by Kelly Barnhill

“When Jack is sent to Hazelwood, Iowa, to live with his strange aunt and uncle, he expects a summer of boredom. Little does he know that the people of Hazelwood have been waiting for him for a long time...” - from inside the jacket.

Jack is invisible. At least he feels that way. His parents sometimes act like they can’t remember he even exists and then they dump his at his aunt’s. What’s a twelve-year-old to do?

Jack does not believe in fairy tales. But strange happenings force him to reconsider who he is and what he’s capable of.

I loved Barnhill’s writing for two reasons. First, as a native Iowan I know she’s spent time here, listening to the corn grow and cicadas chirping at night, because it’s reflected in her writing. Iowa isn’t flashy -- there aren’t any mountains or big cities -- but it has a quiet beauty which Jack discovers as he investigates the mysteries written in The Secret History of Hazelwood, written by his uncle. Secondly, Barnhill captures the essence of otherness in her writing which makes for good fantasy. I love writing that creates a mysterious atmosphere by leaving room for the imagination.  It makes you go, whoa, what in the world?

There is resolution in the ending but not a “happy ending” in a traditional sense. I found it very satisfying and think children readers will, too. Jack must make a difficult choice and any decision will have its consequences for him and those he cares about. This book shows how the world is not black and white, that good and evil are more complicated concepts than we wish they were. It’s unusual to find a children’s book that is willing to show this. I felt Barnhill’s representation of the ideas of good and evil, sacrifice, bullying and true friendship were masterful. The characters were great though there may have been one too many. That’s my only “complaint.” I loved the bodyguard cats, Gog and Magog. Hysterical! I can’t wait to see what Barnhill writes next!

Publisher: Little Brown, 2011 Pages: 323
Rating: 4.5 Stars Source: Public Library

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