Hi! Welcome to Newbery Pie. Today we’ll be discussing Jacob Have I Loved, Katherine Paterson’s second Newbery winner.
Jacob Have I Loved is a novel of two twins: Sara Louise, nicknamed Wheeze, born first, and Catherine, who was born not breathing. Catherine has always been sick and fragile, causing her to be worried and fussed over by her parents and grandmother. Sara Louise has never given her family cause for worry, making her feel unloved and unwanted. Catherine also has a beautiful singing voice, and charms everyone she meets. The girls live on a tiny island in Chesapeake Bay in the 1940s. Most of the men on the island are involved with the seafood trade, and the twins’ father is no exception. Everyone on the island is Methodist and is concerned with proper behavior. There are frequent references to the Ten Commandments in the book. I became confused and asked Benji why Katherine Paterson got them wrong. He told me that she got them exactly right. I, who had to prepare my children for sacraments in the Catholic Church, insisted they were wrong. It was then that we discovered that Protestants and Catholics have different versions of the Ten Commandments. I also spent a lot of time wondering, “Who the heck is Jacob?” (mentioned in the title) because Katherine Paterson doesn’t reveal the Biblical reference to twins Esau and Jacob until almost 2/3 into the book.
There are two important characters in Wheeze’s life, and the fact that Catherine takes both of them away from her cements Wheeze’s hatred for her. One is her childhood best friend, Call (short for McCall) and the other is Captain Hiram Wallace, who is just returning to the island (he left in shame after his cowardice during a thunderstorm compelled him to chop down his father’s mast). Wheeze develops a school girl crush on 70 year old Wallace. She is heartbroken when he decides on a “marriage of convenience” after he loses his house in a hurricane. Catherine invites herself along on visits that Call and Wheeze make to Captain Wallace. After he gets married, Wheeze refuses to visit, so Catherine continues to visit without her sister. After his wife dies, Captain Wallace uses her money to send Catherine to a private boarding school to continue her music education. This angers Wheeze. The final straw comes with Call. The book takes place during WWII so Call has a stint in the Navy. After the war is over, he returns to the island and tells Wheeze and Captain Wallace that Catherine has accepted his proposal of marriage. Eventually, Sara Louise leaves the island, is educated as a midwife and finds happiness.
I felt sorry for Wheeze during the book; I kept hoping that she could move past her jealousy and hatred, but she never could. It made me grateful for my relationship with my own sister, Amy. Although, we were not twins, we are less than 13 months apart. We were quite different growing up, and had several fights as teens. Most infamously, when I was 16, I threw a book at her and hit her in the face. It was Stephen King’s Insomnia. However, we now share a lot of similarities and we are very close. We are both school librarians, live less than a mile away from each other and blog together. She even travels with me every year from North Carolina to Parma, Michigan for Nerd Camp!
I am giving Jacob Have I Loved 4 out of 5 pies. I had to take away one because, to use a reference from Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Wheeze’s crush on Captain Wallace gave me the major wiggins.
Benji’s Review: I like Katherine’s Paterson’s books a lot. I’ve only read two, but some day, when I have some free reading time, I’m going to read the rest of them. I thought this book was masterfully written. I liked the hatred theme throughout the book. Until Wheeze let go of her hatred, she is absolutely unable to find real happiness. I didn’t like her sister any more than she did. She was kind of a brat, but at the same time, as an outside reader, I could see that by holding on to her bitterness, Wheeze was really only hurting herself.
I didn’t mind her old man crush on Captian Wallace. He was one of the few people in the town who actually paid attention to Wheeze, and teenagers have weird feelings sometimes. I guess it didn’t bother me because it bothered Wheeze. She knew it wasn’t normal, and she eventually got over it.
Cool fact: I used to live in the valley that Wheeze moves to at the end of the book.
I give the book five out of five Newbery Pies.