March 31, 2006

The Unfavorite Twin

I haven't posted in a while, for which I apologize. I have a backlog of reviews to write, now, because I've been reading like crazy. (Funny, that's sounding like a familiar litany...) Here's the first.

I recently borrowed a friend's much-loved, battered, worn copy of Jacob Have I Loved, a classic Newbery winner by Katherine Paterson which, I'm ashamed to say, I hadn't read before.

The funny thing is, reading the blurb on the back of the book, I could see why it hadn't appealed to me as a young adult. Two sisters, one of whom everyone loves, the other of whom—the narrator, Louise—is overshadowed. Life in a very small town on a very small island in the 1940s. A coming of age in which Louise finds that her childhood dreams of being a waterman like her father "did not satisfy the woman she was becoming." These things did not interest me as a young adult. I was much more interested in, as I recall, dragons, magic, suspense, and ESP.

Jacob Have I Loved contains none of these, and so it passed me by. But realistic, historical, and coming-of-age stories are a lot more interesting to me now, as a reader and a writer, so I was very excited to plunge in. Kathleen, who lent it to me, said it's one of her all-time favorites, intriguing me further.

I wasn't disappointed. This book depicts life in a time and setting that's unfamiliar to me as a modern urban reader, bringing it to life through loving, vivid, detailed description. I learned about boats. I learned about island weather. I learned about the changing role of women during and after wartime, and how this might affect someone growing up in a place where things don't change very quickly. There might not be any dragons, but there's a big storm, a crush on a MUCH-older man, and a sinister grandma, not to mention a family secret or two. I was surprised I enjoyed it so much. I still don't think I would have been interested as a teenager—just speaking of myself here—but I'm really glad I picked it up now, as an adult.

1 comment:

tanita s. davis said...

Interestingly,I was both entranced with and annoyed by the novel when I first read it in my late teens. Initially I loathed the title - I couldn't figure out why anyone had to be "hated," and I hated how the author had created the sister and it seemed that a whole lot of things were just set up to cause one sister to be a victim. A second, more recent reading definitely fleshed out to me the beautiful scenery, the subtle power plays within the family, the illicit longing for the older-man relationship, etc., but I felt like the novel was almost not YA. It was almost too... still of a novel for me when I first read it, and though the stillness was bearable the second time through, I realized that so much goes on in the mental landscape that the reader has the feeling of being suspended in amber with the character. As a literary device, that was quite effective - you easily get the idea that nothing changes in this town, and that life and time moves far too slowly.