Thursday, July 9, 2015

1981 - Jacob Have I Loved


And it has finally come to this, reviewing Jacob Have I Loved, by Katherine Paterson. This is not a book I read as a kid. I first came across it courtesy of my children, who had to read it for school. It's hard to say if I would have liked it as a child. I don't think my kids particulary enjoyed it, but not because it wasn't well-written, and not because it wasn't interesting. It was the "M" word, "meaningful."

I'm sure this was one of the books that provoked my discussion with them on reading fiction, that the fluffy, fun, escapist books might be entertaining to settle down into, but are soon forgotten. The meaningful books will stick in your mind and, sometimes uncomfortably, cause you to think deeper thoughts. Like her other Newbery Award-winning book, Bridge to Terebithia, this book is also meaningful and thought-provoking, dealing with deep sibling rivalry, adolescent angst, not fitting in, and gender roadblock issues.

Louise and Caroline were twins, born on Rass Island, a small Chesapeake Bay community, populated by fishermen who harvested oysters and crabs. The stage is set for their relationship when healthy baby Louise is born, followed by weak, sickly Caroline, who immediately receives all the attention, so that she can live. When Louise asks for retellings of the story, hoping to hear a scrap of extra attention paid to her newborn self, she never gets it, reinforcing her idea that Caroline is the favored child, and that she is less. Her feelings even gain a slogan, after her demented grandmother meanly and pointedly quotes from the Bible to Louise, "Jacob have I Loved, Esau have I hated."

This story is told in the first person voice of Louise. Her feelings are complicated, and expressed honestly to herself. She is the tomboy, but is unable to go out on the boat with her father as a son would have because she is a girl, though she does manage to become quite skilled by going out on her own little skiff. Jealousy and having incompatible personalities taint her relationship with Caroline. She has an inappropriate, but rather natural crush considering her stage of puberty, which her senile grandmother torments her over. Louise has never really thought about what she would want to do in life besides her dramtic fantasy of being the eccentric single woman going out crabbing like the men.

So yes, this is a "coming of age" story. And like several others I have read, the last couple chapters dramatically speed up the passing time. So while you are used to strolling through the days, a season or two, then a year, all of a sudden, ZING! She graduates, goes to college, graduates, takes a job in a remote area, marries, has a kid... and then wraps up the story. Personally, I prefer a book to carry on its pace to the end and then wrap it up in an epilogue. But that's me.

I like to feel sympathetic toward the protagonist, and at times that was hard to do here. But it is a difficult thing, feeling misunderstood and unappreciated, yet unable to easily communicate with those around you. I expect that is the case with more tweens and teens than not, and it's helpful to understand the universality of that.

I got this book at the thrift store for about a buck.


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