Thursday, October 20, 2011
It's 1967. Jack Witcher is a twelve-year-old boy genius living in a Virginia suburb at an address the entire neighborhood avoids. Jack's father has lost his job-again-and he's starting fights with other fathers. Jack's mother, sweet but painfully ugly, works as a cashier at a local market. Jack's older brother is a long-haired, pot-smoking hippie.
If all of that isn't bad enough, Jack's brother suddenly becomes the main suspect in the disappearance of the town's golden boy. And to make matters even worse, Jack is in love with the missing boy's sister, Myra. Mr. Gladstein, the town jeweler and solitary Jew, is Jack's only friend; together, they scheme to win Jack Myra's love. But to do that, Jack must overcome the prejudices, both the town's and his own, about himself and his family. -- Amy Einhorn
IF JACK'S IN LOVE by Stephen Wetta was one of the books that I was most excited to bring home with me from this year's BEA. I was hooked from the minute I read the book's description and it just sounded like an ideal book for me -- part Southern fiction/part coming-of-age. Plus (and this is a big one!), it's an Amy Einhorn book which, if you've ever read any of books from that imprint, then you know what I'm talking about. Needless to say, my expectations were pretty darn high for this novel.
IF JACK'S IN LOVE was a wonderful read and I think it did live up to my high expectations. I don't know if I'd go so far as to say that it's my favorite book of 2011, but it's very, very good; and it definitely warrants all of the attention it has received. It has earned a starred review from Publishers Weekly along with raving blurbs from Katrina Kittle, Pete Dexter, and Timothy Schaffert. It's also been compared to (do I dare say it?) TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD. There is quite a bit of fuss surrounding this story and I can say confidently that there should be (although no book touches TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD in my opinion!)
IF JACK'S IN LOVE encompassed everything I look for in quality books -- an interesting storyline, well developed characters along with some fantastic writing. It's almost hard to believe that it's Mr. Wetta's debut novel. At times, I was blown away by Mr. Wetta's prose and there is no doubt that he is a marvelous storyteller. I sincerely hope he's got another book in the works because I definitely want to read it!
There is just so much positive to say about IF JACK'S IN LOVE that I'm having a hard time narrowing it down for the purpose of writing my review. Suffice it to say that this book is a winner. I loved the writing and the plot; however, I think I'm going to focus on the character development in my review. When I reflect back on this novel, I can't stop thinking about the various characters and their actions. And if I were discussing this novel with my friends, I would most definitely want to talk about this unique cast of characters.
Needless to say, all of the characters in IF JACK'S IN LOVE were very interesting to me -- even the ones that were difficult to like. I adored Jack (but more on him later!), but I also loved Mr. Gladstein, the Southern town's lone Jew. The interactions between Mr. Gladstein and Jack were some of my favorite scenes from the novel, and they provided some very funny moments. I was so glad to see that Jack had someone who not only appreciated him, but also provided some much-needed guidance.
And then there were the characters that I had a hard time appreciating, namely Jack's father and brother. I just couldn't stand them and I found myself very angry with them for how they treated Jack. I tried to be sympathetic to their plight, but I guess I'm just not a big enough person because I wanted them to get what they deserved. Having said that, I still found myself thinking about them a great deal and analyzing their actions; and there is no doubt that they made the story intriguing!
What I think I most appreciated about this novel, though, was the character of Jack. I absolutely, positively adored him; and I have no doubt that he is one of the reasons why this book resonated with me as much as it did. The story was told in Jack's voice, and I thought Mr. Wetta did a wonderful job of capturing the thoughts and feelings of a young boy. But Jack's character was so much deeper than that. Jack had been dealt a pretty difficult hand in the game of life, but he managed to play it the best way he could. He was so smart and wise (way beyond his years) and he was also extremely brave. However, it was the brutal honesty in which Jack told the story that made him (and therefore the novel) really stellar in my opinion.
If you can't already tell, I think IF JACK'S IN LOVE would make a wonderful book club selection. I honestly can't stop thinking about Jack (and the other characters) and I would love to talk about them with my friends over a glass of wine or two! I wasn't able to find a reader's guide, but I don't think it would be hard to come up with some topics for discussion. Some of the themes that I'd explore include parent/child relationships, jealousy, trust, secrets, honesty, love, obligation, friendships, and first love.
Thanks to the publisher for sending a copy of this novel.