Saturday, March 27, 2010

Jacob Have I Loved by Katherine Paterson

Another Newbery winner, an odd one. I was a little apprehensive about this, because my good friend and fellow book blogger Amanda really disliked it (you can read her review here); but a Sherrie, a librarian friend where I volunteer, just loves it.  And I had loved one of Katherine Paterson's earlier books, Of Nightingales that Weep. I read it when I was a youngster and I looooooved it, read it over and over, but by the time Katherine Paterson won the Newbery for this one I had moved on to trashy books like Flowers in the Attic. (Please forgive me -- I did read good stuff too, like Animal Farm and 1984 and Gone with the Wind.).

Anyway, this book sort of intrigued me, because it's all about sibling rivalry (hence, the title): Sara Louise is the older of a pair of 14-year-old twins, and is far outshone by the beautiful, fragile, talented Caroline, who sings like a bird and makes everyone else swoon.  It's about 1940 and they live with their parents and crazy grandmother on a tiny little island off Chesapeake Bay, Maryland, where their father ekes out a living crabbing and fishing and catching oysters and all sorts of Deadliest Catch sorts of stuff.  They are barely scraping by and it seems like every extra cent is spent on paying for music lessons and cab rides and ferry rides to develop Caroline's musical talent.  Even the extra money that Sarah Louise earns goes to Caroline!!!  The fact that she is smart and good and works hard seems lost on everyone.  So, the war starts, a mysterious old gentleman moves back to the island, there are natural disasters, and since they are teens, there are coming-of-age issues and jealousy regarding various males.

This book really intrigued me because growing up I always felt kinda overshadowed by my older sister, who . . . guess what?  Sang like a bird and was the Most Talented Girl in the Whole Wide World.  Or so it seemed. (Talented! Really smart! Lots of friends!)  However -- we were not a) poor fisherfolk on Chesapeake Bay, just middle class people living in a boring Detroit suburb; b) my parents didn't spend every last cent on her; and c) my sister is actually a very nice person and we have always gotten along really well.  So, the parallels end there, though oddly enough, my sister moved to Maryland. To go to music school.  I am not making this up.

Okay, back to the book.  I did really like parts of it -- I thought Paterson did a fantastic job describing life on Chesapeake bay.  I have no desire to go fishing, but I've always liked boats and water -- probably because I grew up trapped in the Midwest.  When I read it, I could practically smell the salt air and the fishiness and hear the sound of the water and all that.  Living on a tiny island sounded sort of interesting compared to my childhood. 

I really felt like most of the characters seemed kind of one dimensional. Caroline didn't seem to have a single redeeming quaility -- didn't anyone notice she just took and took from everyone else because of her "gift???" She didn't seem to contribute one whit while everyone else was slaving away, and just took it all for granted. I wanted Sarah Louise to say hey, what about me? How about a scholarship for ME? She was pretty passive agressive. Her crazy grandmother had all these great lines, like a Greek chorus screeching out what was really going on, but Sarah Louise did nothing. So maybe she deserved to get walked all over.

My biggest issue is that the book seemed really unresolved -- nothing ever happened with her sister, the vague love interest, or her parents -- I was waiting for some kind of confrontation, or for some huge irony, like Caroline dying in a ferry accident on the way to her first performance, or something.   But a lot of plot lines seemed unfinished or thrown together at the end, and in fact, the last five pages or so zip through the rest of her life. And that's the end.  I guess I just I didn't understand the point of the book.  A disappointment.

(Oh, and isn't the cover kind of creepy?  Of course Sarah Louise is the dark-haired twin, and she looks kind of bitter and nasty.  Caroline almost looks like a ghost -- could this be foreshadowing?  Nah.)

Newbery Count: 37/89


  1. Nice review. Been a long time since I've read a book of this genre. I remember both 1984 and Animal Farm from high school. Now, those are classics..

    As far as Steinbeck goes, I've only read Of Mice and Men. I enjoyed that one. Do you recommend any other Steinbeck novels?


  2. The Grapes of Wrath is just phenomenal. If you want something a little shorter, I also recommend Travels with Charley and Cannery Row. The Winter of Our Discontent is pretty good too.

  3. I really got the impression that the narrative was so one-sided because Sarah Louise was doing the talking. I think Caroline probably did contribute more than SL was willing to admit. I was just annoyed that SL never learned anything and she never grew up!! Ugh!

    (For some reason this post didn't come through my google reader! I'm not sure why. I'm glad you told me you posted it because I never would have seen otherwise.)

  4. I agree, Sarah Louise didn't really develop that much as a person. I'm still going to read more Katherine Paterson. I've heard The Great Gilly Hopkins is good.

  5. Gilly Hopkins is excellent! I reread it just a few years ago and loved it just as much as when I was a kid. Bridge to Terabithia's great too.

  6. I read Terebithia a couple of years ago and was strangely unexicted about it. Maybe my expectations were too high.

  7. I read Gilly and Terabithia both as kids, and then I read them both a few years ago. Terabithia made me cry (again), and Gilly...well, it's well done, but it's definitely dated. As long as you go in reading it in the time that it would have been written, it's great. But I mean Gilly's scared of the neighbor because he's black, that sort of thing.


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