Laurinda’s Rating: 2.5/5
Jacob Have I Loved, the 1981 Newbery Medal Winner, is an angsty coming-of-age story set on the island of Rass. Sarah Louise (aka “Wheeze) is the primary narrator. Her hated twin sister is the golden songbird of the family, beloved by the entire town. The primary thrust of the narrative focuses on Sarah Louise’s feelings of inadequacy and her resentment towards others. Only at the very end does she find a path for herself, leaving the island behind.
The Good: Paterson, the author, does an excellent job depicting island life. It’s not an area or culture I’m familiar with, but Paterson’s vivid descriptions of daily life made it easy to visualise. The scenery and daily life are very integrated into the narrative; Sarah Louise helps earn income by crabbing and eventually goes out on her father’s oyster boat. Secondary characters are well drawn, and with interesting subplots of their own. The Captain and Trudy’s late-in-life romance is particularly touching. Additionally, the overall language use is beautiful. This book generated a lot of quotes for our Tumblr. Paterson genuinely has a gift for finding the perfect language for any situation.
The Bad: The main character is a jealous pill. In between blowing up at people, she internalizes all her resentment towards her sister and those around her, leading to great bitterness. The narrative is very focused on how Sarah Louise thinks she’s going crazy, how she’ll be condemned to Hell for hating her sister, and on the negative emotions she feels. Also, the depiction of her pseudo-crush on the Captain is just straight-up awkward. As with The Bridge to Terabithia, the plot is secondary to characterization, so when you hate the main character, the entire reading experience falls apart.
Overall, while this book has interesting elements and provides a rich description of life on a small island during World War II, the bitter main narrator and the limited plot prevents this book from truly shining. It does deal well with challenging topics like sibling rivalry, changing relationships with others, dementia/Alzheimers, and trying to find your place in the world. However, I’ll echo Sally’s recommendation of The Bridge to Terabithia as a much more entertaining alternative to this angst-filled period piece.