October 09, 2011

Jacob Have I Loved by Katherine Paterson

There is just something about this book that sticks with me. Sure its melancholy, but it has a lot of meaning behind it. I think its because I can identify so well with the main character that I've carried this love of the book into adulthood.

Sarah Louise is one half of a set of twins growing up on the poor island of Rass. Rass is a place for fisherman and crabbers and Louise's family is no different. She however, is very different from the other girls growing up in this time (late 40's) and spectacularly different from her favored twin sister. She has always felt like she was the lesser love and indeed there is favoritism shown throughout the book by nearly all of the adults between the two. Louise spends her day crabbing with her friend Call and then when he leaves the island, working with her father instead of doing traditional female type work. She wants more from her life, but just isn't sure how to get it.

A lot of people would say that Louise isn't a very sympathetic character. That's she's whiney and just kind of annoying and skews things to her perspective. Well of course she would, she's the narrator and the human in all of us wants to tell our story, which is often very biased in favor of us. However, the actions by the other characters leads me to think that she does have something to complain about. Even the grandmother is against her which is very telling with the quote "Jacob have I loved but Esau I have hated." That quote from the bible deals with the same situation that Louise finds herself feeling in regards to her family's love for she and her sister. Sadly this dynamic is reflected in real life as some children are favored over others and given more advantages. It is human instinct to have favorites. And all this means that I find Louise a very believable character and her story really touches me every time I read it.

The plot is kind of a growing up type story and starts slow but the time line increases substantially at the end. I actually wish the second part of the book followed the same pacing as the first as I would have liked detail, but alas, it is what it is. It's a children's book and mostly appropriate for children I would say. There is some cursing and a strong religious element to the novel, and Louise has violent thoughts at time. There are also some aspects, due to the time,that could be a little offsetting for a reader, such as the discussion of drowning stray cats. But there is something so touching about this story and so emotional that all these details only help contribute to it. As a somewhat social reject in high school, it definitely reached out to me in that way.

This is a wonderful emotional book and one that I'll probably read it several more times in the future.

Jacob Have I Loved
Copyright 1980
244 pages

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