Sunday, October 23, 2011

The Mostly True Story of Jack

If you are looking for a creepy sort of story that is not too dark or scary then The Mostly True Story of Jack by Kelly Barnhill may be just what you want.

Synopsis (from Goodreads):

When Jack is sent to Hazelwood, Iowa, to live with his crazy 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. . . .
When he arrives, three astonishing things happen: First, he makes friends-not imaginary friends but actual friends. Second, he is beaten up by the town bully; the bullies at home always ignored him. Third, the richest man in town begins to plot Jack's imminent, and hopefully painful, demise. It's up to Jack to figure out why suddenly everyone cares so much about him. Back home he was practically, well, invisible.

The book is, for the most part, a mystery. Puzzle pieces are handed out one at a time and the reader has to put them together to see the big picture. How quickly this happens and how much enjoyment is to be gotten form it will depend on how much  experience the reader has with these types of stories. In the end the puzzle is complete but not perfect. Some of the pieces are a little warped and, while they fit, leave you wondering what they are doing in the final picture at all. (Such as the Portsmouth, it fit with the story and helped move the plot but what it was, how and why it was there, etc. were never really clear. Same with the character of Anders.)

The cast of characters is varied. Some of them are quirky, but most of them are not. I like how the author tried to show different sides to Clayton Avery, the bully. I found Frankie to be the most interesting character by far.  I would love to have had the whole story from his point of view. I may have gone from simply liking the story to loving it were that the case because I did feel like the other characterizations were a bit weak. Wendy was rather two dimensional and Anders seemed like he was there to move the plot more than anything. Jack was not as developed as I thought a main character should be. This may have been done on purpose as a way of emphasizing his otherness. For me the result was that I didn't care much what happened to him. Plus I knew where this was going long before it got there.

The mythos of the book is an interesting one. It includes Green Man legend and the idea of nature guardians and magical eruption points. None of that is original, but plopping it in the middle of an Iowa farm town is. The main magical being is a nature guardian who controls the movement of magic in the area of the town of Hazelwood. Due to evil greedy intentions the guardian has split into her dark side and her good side and is at war with herself. Balance can only be restored when she is whole again. Oh and her darker side likes to suck up the souls of children (herein lies the creepy factor). Overall interesting like I said but, to me, it wasn't captivating.

This was an enjoyable read but certainly not one of my favorites this year. This may just be me though as it has received several rave critical reviews.

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