The Mostly True Story of Jack by Kelly Barnhill
(Summary taken from the inside book jacket.) “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 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.”
So, I have a funny story as to why I read this book. I was at the library with my daughter, and I was looking for some beginning reader books for my 2nd grader. I looked over and saw this book on the shelf. I pulled it out thinking it might be good for my 6th grader. As my daughter was picking out her books, I opened this book and started reading. This is what I read: “Frankie was the first to know. Frankie was the first to know most things–but since he hadn’t spoken since he was eight years old, it didn’t matter what he knew. He couldn’t tell anyone. Not so they could hear anyway. He sat at the dinner table, picking at his potatoes and pot roast, when a sound blew in from the wide expanse of the prairie. A single high note, like a bell. The rest of the family ate, wiped their faces, and excused themselves from the table. They didn’t notice the sound. Frankie laid his left hand over the knot of scars that curled over half his face. No one knew who or what had given him those scars, or what happened to him when he was taken away at the age of eight and returned, marked and silent, two months later. Frankie would not, could not, tell. After all these years, the scars were still puffed and angry and very, very red. The kids in town called him Slasher Face or Freak Show. His mother said his face looked like a field of roses. What his mother did not know was that the scars had memories. They knew things. It’s coming, the scars said. It’s back, they whispered. No, Frankie thought,
shaking his head. Not it, He. He’s coming. We knew he’d come back.” And then I got home and kept reading and reading…… Did I have time to read this book? Umm, no. But oh well, I got hooked, totally hooked.
This is a very unique story. It wasn’t really what I expected it to be when I read that first page, but I enjoyed it. The writing is sometimes wonderful and intriguing, and sometimes confusing. I had to go back and reread sections so I knew what was going on; however, the description of the “angry scars” was fabulous. I don’t know if you’ve ever seen the movie “Big Fish,” but it reminded me of that story in that it was random, mysterious, magical, and you were left thinking, “I have no idea what just happened, but…okay.” The characters were mostly developed well. Jack, Wendy, and Frankie were my favorite characters. Frankie reminded me of the boy in “Wonder.” Jack’s aunt and uncle were interesting characters. I wish there had been a little more explanation of their history and how Uncle Clive had gotten the book. The ending fit, but was sad. I had hoped there would be a better way, but apparently not. When you read this book you just need to let go of reality and hang on for the ride. Disappearing schoolhouses, kidnapping, child swapping, magical houses, and a half evil, half good Mother Earth. Need I say more???
This book is clean except for some violence. There are some school-yard fights (bullies), a kidnapping, and a car crash. I liked it. I did have higher hopes for it from that beginning, but I thought it was creative and imaginative. It also had a good message of putting others’ needs before your own, and sacrificing yourself to help those around you.
Rating: PG (School-yard fights, bullies, kidnapping, and a car crash.)
Recommendation: 4th grade and up.