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The Mostly True Story of Jack Hardcover – August 2, 2011

4.1 out of 5 stars 44 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

Amazon Best Books of the Month, August 2011 : Jack had always been invisible. Not literally, though it often felt that way even around his family. When Jack arrives in Hazelwood, Iowa, to spend the summer with his unusual relatives he suddenly finds himself getting noticed…a lot. In fact, people seem to know all about him, especially Mr. Avery, the wealthiest man in town who inexplicably hates Jack on sight. In The Mostly True Story of Jack a keenly perceptive boy, a fearsome girl, and her damaged twin brother, help Jack discover who he is--unearthing deeply rooted secrets in the process. Twists and turns abound as more is revealed in this strange town where nature, magic, love, and sacrifice, are deeply entwined with the extraordinary power of belonging. --Seira Wilson

Review

* "Truly splendid...the ultimate page-turner."
Kirkus Reviews, starred review

* "Suspense builds steadily, with twists and surprises woven throughout, and friendship emerges as a powerful theme....Barnhill explores the struggle between good and evil and the power of love and sacrifice, creating a provocative and highly original mystery."Publishers Weekly, starred review

* "Wonderful in the best possible way: filled with wonders and magic, yes, but magic that is ancient, numinous, and tied to the natural world...Barnhill's first novel for children is a marvel of both plotting and characterization, and it provides a foundation for the omnipresent magic that elevates this title to the first rank of contemporary children's literature."―Booklist, starred review

* "A compelling story with genuine characters and a deliciously creepy atmosphere. The suspense builds from the very first page...This delightful story will captivate readers with its blend of magic, mystery, and adventure."―VOYA, starred review

"There's a dry wit and playfulness to Barnhill's writing that recalls Lemony Snicket and Blue Balliett...a delightfully unusual gem."―The Los Angeles Times

"Richly atmospheric, this folklorically flavored tale offers a strangely pleasing combination of midwestern charm and hauntingly creepy Tim Burton-like imagination. Barnhill reveals just enough of Hazelwood's many secrets to keep the readers gripped, and the perfectly timed pacing makes for a quick and accessible read."―The Bulletin
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Product Details

  • Age Range: 8 and up
  • Grade Level: 3 - 7
  • Lexile Measure: 740L (What's this?)
  • Hardcover: 336 pages
  • Publisher: Little, Brown Books for Young Readers; 1 edition (August 2, 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0316056707
  • ISBN-13: 978-0316056700
  • Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 1.2 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.4 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (44 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,029,530 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By M. Fuller on August 16, 2011
Format: Hardcover
Complicated. That is the best word I can think to not only describe the plot behind "The Mostly True Story of Jack" by Kelly Barnhill, but quite possibly the whole point behind her writing the book in the first place. Don't misunderstand me; while the plot is unique, interesting and cleverly fast-paced, it is also easy to follow. Information is slowly unraveled for the reader as they discover the mystery of Jack, his foggy past, and the dark and mysterious history and happenings in the town of Hazelwood, which he finds himself recently plunked in the middle of. Readers, young or old, will find the book fascinating and it will easily capture their attention. With that said, after completing the book, I am still left wondering: Did I like this story? Did I like the characters? What was the message of the book? All questions I am sure very few 9-12 year olds will ever ask when reading a book, but this 30-year-old is left with them nonetheless.

While the storyline and message of the book is that things are complicated, I don't feel like the characters were very deep or complicated on their own. I found the emotions in this book a bit dry, and the relationships sort of stale. I can't put my finger on exactly why I feel this way, but an example would be the relationship between Jack and his uncle Clive. The reader can tell that Clive adores and cares for Jack, but Jack doesn't ever really reciprocate that affection anywhere in the story and Clive never really expresses it either. That is just one example; even the most personable characters like tomboy Wendy and school-bully Clayton lack scenes/interactions that would leave them a bit more memorable. With that said, there are many likable characters, I just don't feel I know or understand them individually very well.
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Format: Hardcover
When I started reading this book, I was impressed with two things. First, the writing was excellent, it flowed smoothly allowing the reader to focus on the story rather than the writing. Second, the story was kind of weird and I'm not really into weird, many of the kids I work with are into weird but I'm not. So I was tempted to put the book down and go onto something else. But then I decided that wasn't fair, especially since the book had been mentioned as a Newbery contender by one of my favorite bloggers, A Fuse #8 Production. And I also have a hard time putting a book down without finishing it, I know that's silly, but that's the way I am. So I finished the book.

The plot line is definitely unique, I can't say I've read another book like it, ever (and I've read hundreds of books in my lifetime). I was really impressed at the way that Barnhill slowly revealed bits and pieces of the puzzle, which kind of makes the book a mystery, but it doesn't really feel like one. This would be a great book to hand to kids who want a mystery, but not a formulaic one.

Being a geography fan, setting is something I pay a great deal of attention to. Here, once again, Barnhill excels. The reader quickly gets a feel for this town that is in some ways like any other small town, but in other ways very unique. Here's an example,

It was an old wooden farmhouse with a large porch, wide windows, and a small round porthole at the roof's peak. And it was purple. A deep, rich purple so intense it almost seemed to vibrate. Jack squinted. The front door was bright green and the trim of each window was painted a different color: red, yellow, orange, and blue.

You have to admit, that is a very intriguing description of the house that Jack comes to stay in.
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Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
While The Witch's Boy and Iron Hearted Violet were both excellent reads (as reviewed by a trio of reviewers: my 8-yo, my 10-yo and myself), Mostly True Story of Jack was a big disappointment.

Here's why: Plot: Ambiguous; Characters: One-dimensional; Writing Style: Pretentious (meaning, trying too hard to be deep and reflective, but comes across as unnatural).

This book was hard to read, despite its fantasy/fairy tale/magical theme. The writing came across stilted, and the use of flashback was overused. The narrative on the character's thoughts and feelings did not come across as real. Although starting out with a middle-grade tone, the book kind of shifts into the YA realm, because there are hints of angst and purpose-of-life questions, and tries to propose a resolution to the battle between conflicting morals within us by suggesting we embrace our whole self, etc.

Anyway, just a heads up for parents and readers out there. I suggest you go with The Witch's Boy or Iron Hearted Violet. If I could have asked for a refund for this one, I would have. But we (me and my kids) did not read it within the first week of purchase. Hope this helps.
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
I read The Witch's Boy by Kelly Barnhill last week and enjoyed it so much I immediately picked up The Mostly True Story of Jack. Sadly I was disappointed in this story. While I still like the author's writing style, I felt like this story was just really confusing and if I was confused as an adult reading it I can't see many middle graders getting it either. I still am not sure exactly what was going on..why was The Lady split in two and how did that happened exactly? Why would they swap children and steal souls? I was just confused and even after going back to reread passages I still couldn't figure it out. It seems like a great idea that just wasn't pulled together very well.
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