Published by Berkley ISBN 9780425247785
Trade paperback, $14, 368 pages
Amy Einhorn Books excels at finding debut novelists with unique voices- Eleanor Brown's The Weird Sisters, Alex George's The Good American and most famously, Kathryn Stockett's The Help. All of these books draw the reader into another world with strong characters and writing.
Add to that list Stephen Wetta with his debut novel If Jack's In Love. Set in a Virginia suburb in 1967, Jack Witcher is a twelve-year-old boy with a gifted intellect and a difficult home life. His mother is a kind woman burdened with a husband who cannot hold a job, fights with the neighbors and holds his intelligent son in disdain. Jack's older brother Stan follows in their father's violent footsteps, drinking, smoking pot, fighting and getting in trouble with the law. Needless to say, the Witcher family is not a popular one in the neighborhood.
Jack has a crush on beautiful Myra who responds to Jack's sweetness. But when Myra's brother, the high school football hero, goes missing, Stan is the prime suspect after having a fight with the boy. Once again, Jack's family has hurt him.
Mr. Gladstein is the owner of a local jewelry store and Jack's only friend. The man tries to help Jack woo Myra, and he is one of the few people in town who show Jack's plain mother any type of kindness or interest. Jack's father comes up with a plan to rob Mr. Gladstein, and Jack must thwart the plot without his father finding out.
Jack is a wonderful character, and watching him try to survive and thrive in a home where his intellect is stifled and mocked is difficult. His poor beaten-down mother does her best, but she is no match for her physically powerful husband and other son.
The book grabs you from the opening line:
"I'll never know for sure whether I'd have fought my brother or not. Maybe I might have killed him. The day came and I made the decision. But I will never know."How can you resist reading on?
The author's take on the complexities of love and family intrigued me. Jack's mom explains why she married his dad this way:
"I knew he'd never get it in his head he was too good for me. He has an inferiority complex a mile wide. Most people can't see that, but I saw it right away." Jack "went to (his) room and meditated on the mysteries of women, deeper that all the philosophies of humankind put together."On families, Jack thinks:
"Families live on loyalty more than love, and it wasn't fear that made me keep my mouth shut. I could never forget that Stan bled for me. And yet I was terrified of him."If Jack's In Love is a book written for adults, but there is much here for teens to appreciate. Jack is an outsider, torn between his love for his mother, and yes even his father and brother, and his desire to have a different, better life. His feelings are no doubt shared by many adolescents, and this book would be a great one for high school English classes.
rating 4 of 5