1981: Jacob Have I Loved (Wheeze, Wheeze, Woe is Me)

VERDICT: Trash

Sally’s Rating: 2.5/5

In her second entry on the Newbery Medal winner list, Katherine Paterson delves into the world of raging teenage hormones and melodramatic family fights in Jacob Have I Loved, a story of a girl who is overshadowed by her twin sister’s greatness.

This coming of age book featured one of the most annoying protagonists in children’s literature. In Sara Louise “Wheeze” Bradshaw’s struggle to find herself in a small fishing town in WWII America, her worst qualities come to light as her intense jealousy of her younger twin, who is natural prodigy and attention hog, overtakes her life. She hates everything about her sister and comes to believe that everyone hates her – her grandmother, her parents, and even God. While her situation is not ideal, Louise never speaks up about how she feels to her other family members; she just lets her anger simmer and has constant self-pity parties instead.

Louise was just too defeatist to be a compelling heroine, wallowing in how unfair the world was towards her. She never takes control of her own destiny, except at the end of the novel when she finally blows up. Yet in the epilogue portion, she has taken on her mother’s fate and ended up in a similar situation despite the change in scenery. Additionally, she never has a final showdown with her sister. Plot points are just left hanging, and there never seems to be a satisfying resolution.

The lack of payoff in the plot is outdone by the weirdness of Louise’s teenage hormones going into overdrive as she develops a crush on a 70-year-old sailor who is even older than her grandmother. This desire for attention from someone she loves feeds into her self-pity as it is just another thing in her life that gets denied to her. Her resulting jealousy at his marriage was almost funny in an awkward way; Jacob Have I Loved could have been more tolerable if it hadn’t taken itself so seriously and made everything into a dark comedy instead.

I will admit that the author has a way with words; it was hard to put the book down at times simply because some of her passages were beautifully crafted and poignant. If only the plot had been more compelling and the characters more sympathetic, I wouldn’t question why this book won the Newbery Medal.

I would have a hard time recommending Jacob Have I Loved to its target audience. Some of the themes were a bit mature even though this book may appeal to angsty middle school students. If looking to read a Katherine Paterson book, stick with Bridge to Terabithia; this one will test your patience.

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