I'll admit that, kneeling by the bookshelf to skim the dilapidated spines of well-loved books for compulsory SSR, I thought that "Jacob Have I Loved" was the beginning of a light-hearted, standard, YA romance. But, if the biblical reference above wasn't a good enough indicator, it's not. It is a thousand times better than one.
The voice that first pulls you in is that of Sara Louise-- or Wheeze, as she is called by the majority of the other characters. Her voice immediately bleeds through the paper, her melancholy tone inviting as she describes her plans to pick up her mother, the last of their family from her childhood home island, Rass. It quickly devolves-- or evolves, I would argue-- into a few pages worth of rich yet honest descriptions of the island as she sees it in her mind's eye.
Then, in the next page, we properly meet Sara Louise as I will always envision her: crabbing on a boat with Call (her only friend), matter-of-fact and a bit rough around the edges, the only contented glimpse of her we see before her life begins to spiral.
"Life begins to turn upside down at thirteen"
And for her, the first inkling of change begins with the bombing of Pearl Harbor. The war is referred to here and there, but for the most part, it only fuels the despair she falls into at times. Her voice grows up as the book progresses, from that of a hopeless romantic to that of an angsty and stubborn teenager. This is one of the main reasons I love this book though-- the characters. Their father, their mother, their grandmother, Call, the Captain, and Caroline are all nuanced in different ways. They have their kind moments, and they have some moments where you wish Sara Louise would slap some sense into them. I could go on for days about how I simply know their dad has the kindest, crinkliest eyes, and how Caroline has the fairest skin with thin stands of golden hair like the straw Rumplestiltskin spun in that fairytale.
Onto the main character. Sara Louise is the type of person who is so far from perfect, it's hard to see her as a main character. However, she is good enough to make you passionately root for her will pom poms and glitter as you watch her life play out. She deals with these imperfections as many of us prefer to do-- to just not deal with it. She loves, she hates, she is impulsive, she is thoughtful, and she is the embodiment of a beautifully flawed character.
"Shouldn't I have been a minute's worry? Wasn't it all the months of worry that had made Caroline's life so dear to them all?"
The main source of her insecurities, though, surrounds the fact that she is the older twin to the delicate, beautiful, and musically gifted, Caroline. The depiction of this sibling relationship is the most accurate one I've found to date-- you love them, you hate them, you're proud of them, and sometimes you just really need to explode on them.
I wouldn't say this book is about how Sara Louise overcomes all of this; rather, it is how she comes to terms with it. With such a flawed character though, I understand why some people on Goodreads have given this low stars. Some of the content this book covers, while not not quite taboo, are relatively unsavory topics to discuss and admit to in public. Some of these include embarrassing crushes, shameful thoughts of pure hate, dysfunctional family dynamics, and how Christianity can be wielded to be cruel. But at the end of the day, I would say that they made the book better, because we are truly being able to see all of Sara Louise's thoughts, rather than just a censored version.
In addition, this book makes me cry every. single. time. I have waited for it's emotional hold on me to loosen up, but it never does. In that one particular scene, the climax of the novel, I am there, scrubbing already clean windows and screaming at my mother because I am so mad at the world and I don't know why.
"'I turned so that I would not see either of their faces, a sob rising from deep inside me. I pounded on the side of the house to stop the tears, smashing out each syllable. 'God in Heaven, what a stupid waste.'"
Perhaps it is because I am an oldest child. Perhaps it is because I have thoughts I'd never want anyone to see. But mostly, I think it's because I am human. A mediocre human, a normal teenager, an everyday kind of girl. Which is all Sara Louise is, really. In the end, she doesn't become Cinderella and become a princess who smiles prettily at her sisters from the castle. She doesn't turn into a frog or single-handedly kill the Huns (or in the remake, the Rourans) and save all of China.
So, if I really were to have to boil it down to a genre, "Jacob Have I Loved" is a coming of age story in realistic historical fiction. But it is a "story" in the truest sense possible-- real place, real people, real lives, even if Rass and Sara Louise and this story are but collages of islands, teenagers, and lives.
"But there were only two of us, my sister Caroline, and me, and neither of us could stay."
Alright, tidied up some of the grammar :) Sorry for those of you who have been on-- I keep thinking I'm done and then going back to edit some more. But really, really, done this time. Because I have math homework.
Anyway, hope you guys will give this book a go-- it really is wonderful and I also just want to know if anyone else cries at that part... but, even as I'm turning it in right now, I'd love to hear any critiques you have just so I can take it into account in the future.
(also, thank you to everyone who liked the piece before. sorry they're kinda "unpublished" with my old draft :(