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The Mostly True Story of Jack by Kelly…

The Mostly True Story of Jack

by Kelly Barnhill

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2411569,322 (3.44)3



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I'm not at all sure that I have the linguistic prowess to accurately express just how much I disliked this book. It was an ambitious tale of supernatural good vs. evil that failed in just about every manner imaginable.

There are five characters who are children. None of them are developed well enough for the reader to care what happens to them. None of them behave or speak much like children, and one of them turns out not even to be a person, but some sort of supernatural tree-boy who is only three years old but has had 12 years of fake memories with a human family implanted in his tree-boy brain by a magic spell from an old man who is not his uncle. (This is one of the less confusing and more logical supernatural elements of this garbled mess of a book.) The supernatural and magic grow more and more prevalent, more and more confusing, and more and more irritating the further the reader goes into the book. By the end, it's a jumbled mish-mash of otherworldly gibberish, of which even the characters in the book simply say, "I can't explain it."

Magic and the supernatural need guidelines and rules to work. Stephen King and Neil Gaiman create elaborate worlds of supernatural that work perfectly, because they establish the rules for their worlds and then stick to them. J.K. Rowling's magic works for the same reason. There is non-stop magic through all the Harry Potter series, but all of that magic has rules which are meticulously followed. The magic and supernatural in this book seems to have no rules at all. Why did this happen? Because: Magic! Does the story make any sense? No, but that's okay, because: Magic!

The book jacket to the paperback has positive quotes from reviews in Booklist, Publisher's Weekly, Kirkus Reviews, and the Los Angeles Times. Did these critics read the same book I did? It boggles my mind that critics from legitimate sources, usually fairly trustworthy, could see this nonsense as anything more than that. Read it
at your own risk. Maybe you'll catch all the wonderful features these critics saw that all completely eluded me. ( )
  fingerpost | Jul 10, 2018 |
Thanks to dull, detached writing, this potentially suspenseful and darkly-whimsical tale has had the charm sucked out of it. ( )
  Birdo82 | Jan 16, 2017 |
A virtually invisible boy named Jack, trees, magic, a town called Hazelwood, and on the Staff Recommends shelf at the library: good signs. But no. Kelly Barnhill’s Mostly True Story of Jack was like The Dark Is Rising when all the world-saving mandalas are easily located within a single neighborhood of a Home County … because that’s the pedestrian range of a boy, not because evil forces have any reason to concentrate there. (Give me Over Sea, Under Stone or The Grey King any day). This was local magic, tied to the earth of a particular place, so the limited geography makes sense (unlike in the Cooper); the comparison is to clumsy rule-writing.

I liked the premise of magic inherent in Iowa because it reminded me of my friend Sarah Prineas’s Winterling, and also of Savvy. Flyover states: not just for corn any more. However, while Sarah’s world makes internal sense, this one, not so much. Where’d the mirror come from? Where’d the cats and parrot come from? How’d the skateboard get to be the way it is? Does Jack have to be so Christ-like? Didn’t we already do the soul thing in Amber Spyglass? Did the author pay royalties to J.K. Rowling when Lancelot carried a message (to whom, anyway, or could she just not resist?) and an object with magical properties of transportation — again, from where? — was called a “Portsmouth”? Or to Joss Whedon when Jack turned out to be Dawn Summers?

It began well, with Jack’s invisibility and Hazelwood’s insulation, but it was mishmash before the halfway mark. The most I can say for it is that the story was entire within itself, and though open to a sequel you don’t need need to read a whole damn trilogy to find out whatever. And I have to mention that it had the de rigueur “pour” for “pore” error.
  ljhliesl | May 25, 2013 |
Loved it! Nicely written, and has a new spin on the changeling idea. Barnhill has done something that is very different from your standard fantasy -- she has created a new and original mythology for Jack's town, and I really appreciate that. ( )
  Inky_Fingers | May 19, 2013 |
Utterly weird. And not, I'm afraid, very interesting to me. Jack is too strange, and too whiny, to hold my interest; the events are too confusing, and by the time things started connecting and making sense the book was almost over. I liked Wendy, a bit, and Anders quite a lot - but they're very definitely secondary characters, with tiny POV parts. Frankie is also too strange, and too much of a deus ex machina. And so on. One thing that bothered me throughout was Jack's stubbornness about what was going on - he determinedly ignored everything that happened around him. And the timeline, when it's finally revealed, makes it even odder - only four years? So all his memories of normality must have been implanted...and why couldn't they be removed, or at least lightened, so that he could understand better? I guess Clive fits the stereotype of the incompetent magician...sort of. Don't know. Overall, too many things bothered me. The basic structure was mildly interesting, but where it was different from what I've seen before it seemed weaker. So...not a favorite, or one I'm interested in rereading. ( )
  jjmcgaffey | Mar 24, 2013 |
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Amazon.com Amazon.com Review (ISBN 0316056707, Hardcover)

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

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:25:34 -0400)

Jack is practically invisible at home, but when his parents send him to Hazelwood, Iowa, to spend a summer with his odd aunt and uncle, he suddenly makes friends, is beaten up by the town bully, and is plotted against by the richest man in town.

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