Title: If Jack’s In Love
Author: Stephen Wetta
Release Date: September 29, 2011
Publisher: Putnam/Amy Einhorn Books
Genre: Contemporary Fiction
Rating: 4 out of 5
The year is 1967 and Jack Witcher is twelve years old. His family is the one in the neighborhood that everyone gossips about and avoids. His father is an alcoholic who can’t seem to hold a job, while Jack’s brother, Stan, is a bully with no conscience. Jack is in love with Myra, but she won’t acknowledge him, and it doesn’t help that Stan goes after Myra’s brother at every turn. Jack makes friends with Mr. Gladstein, the Jewish man that owns the jewelry shop, and they work together to win Myra’s heart for Jack.
If Jack’s in Love is a portrait of small town American in 1967. Jack enjoys freedoms that most children today only dream of – he spends time on his own, unsupervised, away from home. He plays in the woods behind his house, dreaming about the girl he loves. It seems like such a simple, idealistic existence, that is, until the reader considers Jack’s family. Jack’s father and brother are very alike. They are terrifying, and Jack lives in fear of upsetting or disappointing them. They throw a wrench into Jack’s desires and underline his fears.
Wetta captures Jack beautifully in If Jack’s in Love. His angst, his confusion at being on the cusp of manhood – he is a pre-teen portrayed incredibly realistically. He is genuine, and his words come from the heart. Readers will fall in love with Jack, and hope that he will find some happiness; their hearts will ache for him as he endures taunts at the hands of his father and brother. Jack yearns for a different life, one in which he and Myra can be openly in love; it seems like such a simple thing, yet for Jack, it is immensely complicated.
This is a novel that really defies traditional genres. It’s about a twelve-year-old, yet in no way is this a middle grade novel, aimed at younger readers. Though Jack is still a child, the depth and character in his voice will appeal to adults. If Jack’s in Love has been billed as a murder mystery, but even that doesn’t really truly characterize this complicated novel. That does play into the book, yes, but it’s not in any way what the book is about. At its core, this book is about Jack’s coming of age, his realizations about what adulthood really means.
This was a charming and funny novel that captures small town life perfectly. Every neighborhood had a family like the Witchers, and everyone will see something of themselves in Jack. It’s a novel with broad appeal and is thoroughly enjoyable. I look forward to seeing what Stephen Wetta does next.