Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Jacob Have I Loved, by Katherine Paterson

Set on a small island in the Chesapeake in the early to mid 1940s, it is told as the memoir of a girl's teenage years living in the shadow of her beloved-by-everyone twin sister, island life, family, and first love. The protagonist is Sara Louise Bradshaw, older twin sister of Caroline Bradshaw. Caroline is beautiful, musically talented, and fragile - Sara Louise (Wheeze, as many people call her) is jealous, but fiercely strong and determined, and smart.

I read it for school in fourth grade, and I remember the first line of my book report to this day, because I was a little embarassed when it was handed back (I probably wrote it in a hurry): "Caroline, Caroline, Caroline. She's the only one anyone ever thinks about." I remember enough about reading the book to know that the jealousy between the sisters is primarily what I focused on at the time. But oh, there is more. I loved reading this again - I'm almost surprised it's marketed only as children's lit, it works so well.

The book is partly about her relationship with Caroline, of course. But it's also about her relationship with her parents (strictly adherent to the Methodist rule of Island culture), her grandmother who lives with them and is growing more and more senile and hostile. It's about her mother, who we learn moved to the Island as a young schoolteacher - Louise is both fascinated and horrified that as she sees it, her mother had all the world at her fingertips and freely chose this suffocating life. It's about her father, who has lived on the island all his life, and is strong but quiet at home - but sings to oysters out in his boat. It's about her relationship with "the Captain", a former islander who returns after decades on the mainland, who in some ways understands Louise better than she understands herself. And it's about how life on the Island prepared her for the life she makes for herself after the War.

If you haven't read this, or if you only read it for school, find it and give it a go. It's worth it.

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