Sunday, May 4, 2008

Jacob Have I Loved

I have to admit that kept putting off reading Jacob Have I Loved because the cover on the copy I got from my library was so horrendous.

It's like something from a horror novel from the 1970's, isn't it? Caroline (the main character's twin sister) looks like a ghost.

However, even really bad covers can only keep me from reading something I've heard so much good about (check out this review*) for a while.

As soon as I started Paterson's book, I just wanted to keep reading it (though maybe with one of those stretchy cloth covers pulled over it). There was so much in this book: gorgeous descriptions of life in a small town and on an island, sibling rivalry, a demented grandmother, first love, the value of hard work, an examination of how we make choices about our lives, and judging other people's (especially your mother's) choices, gender roles, WWII....have I left anything out? Hmm, maybe a lot about crabs and oysters. Reading those parts was a bit like watching an episode of Dirty Jobs. Fun, and you learn a lot about a totally different way of life pretty painlessly.

Like Flusi, I did want more at the end of the book. Or a sequel, even, filling in Sara Louise's college years and her introduction to adult life in Appalachia. And I agree with Corinne, this book is definitely for older Newbery readers - say 13 and up. There are some pretty adult themes in Jacob, including a loss of faith (oops, forgot to add that in the list of things included above) and sexual awakening. A lot of the "gave it one star" reviewers on amazon hated both of those parts; I thought Paterson's description of the first stirrings of physical attraction were amongst the most beautiful, the most realistic, and conversely the most subtly portrayed and unique that I've ever read.

And is she right about February, or what?
I used to try to decide which was the worst month of the year. In the winter I would choose February. I had it figured out that the reason God made February short a few days was because he knew that by the time people came to the end of it they would die if they had to stand one more blasted day. December and January are cold and wet, but, somehow, that's their right. February is just plain malicious. It knows your defenses are down. Christmas is over and spring seems years away. So February sneaks in a couple of beautiful days early on, and just when you're stretching out like a cat waking up, bang! February hits you right in the stomach. And not with a lightning strike like a September hurricane, but punch after punch after punch. February is a mean bully (p. 79).
I also really enjoyed Jacob I Have Loved a huge amount in comparison to Up a Road Slowly, the last book I read. Both are coming of age stories about teen girls. It would be interesting to look at just how many of these Newbery winners fall into that genre - out of just the ones I've read, The Witch of Blackbird Pond, Out of the Dust, The Midwife's Apprentice, Missing May, The Hero and the Crown, and Julie of the Wolves (and maybe Island of the Blue Dolphins?) all seem especially calculated to appeal to teenage girls. It seems that this is becoming more common in the past few decades, perhaps as children's literature becomes more specialized. Maybe there should be an award just for that? Something like the "Judy Blume award for capturing the anguish of adolescence" medal?

Anyway, Jacob Have I Loved would win that award, hands down.

When I was googling for the hideous cover above, I ran across Chesapeake Bay links for this book on the Library of Congress website. Very cool. And I was also very happy to see that recent covers are much less off-putting.

*Note how much better that early 80's cover is - though I think it is pretty inaccurate, in terms of what the girls wore in the 40's, and the clothes they describe in the book. Those look like 70's sundresses to me.


Corinne said...

Great review!! I'm so glad you liked it. And I agree, I hate that cover!! Mine was lovelier :)

Schatzi said...

That was the cover it had when i read it in elementary school! I always did think it odd ...