Monday, June 6, 2011
The Mostly True Story of Jack
I met Kelly Barnhill in the airport following the World Fantasy Convention, and she was kind enough to give me an advance copy of The Mostly True Story of Jack. It doesn't come out until August, but it should be on your radar because it's a wonderful folk tale dressed up in modern clothes, with a collection of great characters and a terrific central conceit.
Nobody notices Jack. He has no friends at school, and his parents barely speak to him. When he's told he'll spend the summer with his aunt and uncle in tiny Hazlewood, Iowa, he expects the usual: boredom and neglect. But in Hazlewood everyone notices him. Everyone is interested in him. And a few people are so interested they want him to die.
There's a reason Jack never fit in with his family, or their world, and it's as fantastical as the book's cover art would lead you to believe. And Barnhill shows how the good people in Hazlewood gather to befriend and defend Jack, which in turn gives him the courage to do the same for them when it's needed. There's a folktale logic in the story, and it's thrilling as the danger manifests and the kids man up (in the genderless sense of the term) to face it.
The core story of Jack, who he is and what his destiny may be, is awfully good. But Barnhill garnishes this with a collection of interesting human and non-human characters, all drawn in vivid strokes. The threats are real, but so are the bonds holding the characters together, both good and bad. Even the villain wants to destroy Jack for a good, personal reason. And the kids act and sound like kids, with the right priorities and behaviors.
The Mostly True Story of Jack is a great, fast read with a lot of soul and heart. Keep an eye out for it this summer.