Jacob Have I Loved by Katherine Paterson
Genre: Historical Middle GradePublication Date: 1980
I hated reading as a kid, but Katherine Paterson’s Bridge to Terabithia was one of the few books that I read over and over. It’s possible that I’ve read it more times than any other book. I think I related to the artsy rural characters who didn’t fit in with their community. I liked Terabithia so much that I wrote a paper about it as an adult, which got me accepted to grad school. As much as I loved Bridge to Terabithia, I had never read anything else by Katherine Paterson. I thought I should correct that. Jacob Have I Loved is one of her better-known books. I decided to try that one.
Louise and Caroline are twins, but they’re nothing alike. Caroline is beautiful, talented, and popular. Anything Caroline wants, she gets. Louise is the opposite. She’s a tough loner who’d rather be fishing than socializing. Deep down, Louise is painfully envious of Caroline. She wishes that she got attention from boys and had the talent to attend a prestigious performing arts school. Unfortunately, the residents of the small Chesapeake Bay island shower Caroline with praise and ignore Louise. Louise can either allow herself to be consumed by envy, or she can free herself from Caroline’s shadow and forge her own path.
“To fear is one thing. To let fear grab you by the tail and swing you around is another.” – Jacob Have I Loved
This is a character-driven novel. It focuses on Louise and her sibling rivalry with Caroline. The plot is subtle and mostly consists of Louise attempting to differentiate herself from her sister. First Louise thinks she wants to be a hero who uncovers Nazi spies, but that doesn’t work out because she can’t find any Nazi spies on the island. Then Louise tries to make friends with newcomers to the island, but she can’t keep Caroline away from them forever. Then Louise tries to be beautiful and feminine, but she’ll never be as beautiful as Caroline. She’s constantly frustrated that she can’t be as perfect as her sister.
I think this is the type of book that people either love or hate. Louise is kind of insufferable. She’s angry all the time. She treats Caroline terribly and blames Caroline for her own problems. She’s mean to her mother and bossy with her friends. Louise demands to be praised for everything she does. If you can’t stand unlikeable characters, you probably won’t like this book.
That being said, I could relate to Louise. I saw a lot of my younger self in her. (Which is awkward because she’s awful.) Sibling rivalry was definitely part of my childhood. I was never the smartest kid, or the prettiest kid, or the most talented kid in my family. Like Louise, I often felt overlooked. I think it’s important to show sibling rivalry in children’s books. It’s a daily part of life for many kids.
Since the plot is slow and meandering, I’d recommend this novel for older middlegrade readers. Parts of the story would have gone over my head as a young child. Older kids might have more patience and experience. As an adult reader, I appreciate this book. It’s well-written and looks at a subject that isn’t often shown realistically in children’s literature.
“Don't tell me no one ever gave you a chance. You don't need anything given to you. You can make your own chances. But first you have to know what you're after, my dear.” – Jacob Have I Loved
TL;DR: Louise has a bad attitude, but I found the story relatable. It’s about growing up and finding your own path in life instead of being envious of others’ paths.