Tuesday, January 28, 2014

The Mostly True Story of Jack by Kelly Barnhill, Review by Matthew MacNish


This was the first book I finished this year, and the first of Kelly Barnhill's novels I've read. Before I get to my thoughts, here is the jacket copy from Goodreads:

Enter a world where magic bubbles just below the surface. . . .

When Jack is sent to Hazelwood, Iowa, to live with his strange aunt and uncle, he expects a summer of boredom. Little does he know that the people of Hazelwood have been waiting for him for quite 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 Mostly True Story of Jack is an eerie tale of magic, friendship, and sacrifice. It's about things broken and things put back together. Above all, it's about finding a place to belong.


I really loved the way this story handled magic. Like it was kind of just there, always running barely beneath the surface, and that it was perfectly normal for some people to be aware of it, and for others to ignore it completely. Although few of them did.

This is Jack's tale, of course, but it's also the story of Hazelwood, and the people who live there. Jack's aunt and uncle and their crazy house with its pair of odd cats and preternaturally intelligent parrot. Jack's first friends ever, Anders, and Wendy and her brother Frankie. And of course the corrupt town patriarch and his son.

Jack leaves his mom and dad and brother behind in San Francisco, but there's something just a bit strange about that too. He can't reach them by phone, and when he tries to send them letters it just doesn't seem to work. It's almost as if they've forgotten him, or that he never existed.

Jack spends a good portion of the book trying to deny everything that seems to be going on in Hazelwood, but eventually it becomes too much to ignore, and with the help of his friends and a trusty but unusual skateboard, he goes investigating.

Barnhill does something very interesting with the voice in this novel. It's told from a 3rd Person POV, and it mostly focuses on Jack, but it does so in an odd kind of passive way that makes you feel like maybe it isn't his story. It's subtle, and very clever, because we eventually discover this is only mostly Jack's story.

Recommended for fans of magic and mystery and readers who enjoy fantasies set in otherwise mundane settings.

14 comments:

  1. Hazelwood sounds like an odd place to live.

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  2. "Recommended for fans of magic and mystery and readers who enjoy fantasies set in otherwise mundane settings."

    Thanks, Matt. That's me to a tee. Off to search this one out.

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    1. I think you'd like it, Mike. It's a little quiet, and a little odd, but a whole lot of fun.

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  3. Man! I want to read this so bad!
    Have you read The Real Boy, by Anne Ursu? I think you'd really like it

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  4. I haven't read any Anne Ursu yet, but I have read an excerpt, and man that lady can write!

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  5. Great review, Matthew. I've got a tbr pile that's taller than I am... even when stacked digitally. But it still sounds good, even though I don't think I'll get to it.

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    1. Thanks, Rusty. I totally understand about so many books and so little time.

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  6. An interesting post that I enjoyed reading.

    Thank you. Love love, Andrew. Bye.

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  7. Sounds very intriguing. The cover is certainly evocative and conveys everything you described.

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    1. I actually like the paperback cover better, but this one's good too.

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Thanks for adding to the mayhem!