Summer Reads: JACOB I HAVE LOVED, by Katherine Paterson

25 Aug

I try not to get to overly personal in my blogging – I blog about my writing and the path its taking me on, but as I came back this month and decided I’d do one last week of Summer Reads, I glanced at my bookshelf and pulled down Jacob I Have Loved and found that I couldn’t blog about it — Oh, you think I’m blogging about it, but I’m not. I’m blogging about the lifesaving act that sometimes writing a book can be.

 

Jacob I Have Loved has remained on my bookshelf for years for one very simple reason: Katherine Paterson (as she shows in every single book she writes) UNDERSTANDS.

 

Louise’s journey and my own so clearly run parallel in some ways it’s almost frightening. I was the forgotten child in my family, the one judged more harshly, the one misplaced — you know the story the families joke around about forgetting one child on a trip and having to go back – raise your hand if you have some type of family folktale like that you’d also like your parents (but mostly your siblings) to stop retelling.

 

I was nerdy, awkward, ungraceful, shy and introverted – glasses, braces, freckles, underweight, last to develop. Wow, what a cliche — but the saddest part is, looking back, a lot of that can be attributed to many things Louise struggled with as well – a sibling who not only was beautiful and (wrongly) considered perfect, but the words and actions of others that reinforced that (although sometimes accidentally).

 

My brother, like Louise’s sister Caroline, was condescending to me publicly and hurtful privately – although I suspect (also like Caroline) he loved me in his own way. But while I was smart and successful and kind – he was everything you needed to be to be successful in high school then – good looking, athletic and ruthless. My parents adored him – when they caught him with drugs, when the caught him with girls, when they caught him stealing. Of course, if you were me, leaving a sweater on the floor got you grounded.  I know these words are enough to convey the differences – that large groups of us survived that same childhood and (like Louise) grew up to be the person others look to – smart, successful, and kind – only now these things are what matter. 

 

Like Louise – I escaped the island and built my own life, making myself a beautiful place in the world where I’m happy and content. But it took leaving – which, maybe, I learned from Louise. People from my childhood meet me again and say one of two things “I never would have recognized you” or “You’re exactly the same.” I guess outwardly I’m very different, but I doubt inwardly I’ve changed that much, so I guess they’re both right.

 

What got me through is what got most people like me through: BOOKS. Every single book I could get my hands on let me into a world where I could escape and (flaws and all) triumph. I could see things that in my small town were outside my reach, but not my scope. I could stand on my own without being compared to a sibling who I had a difficult time respecting even if I loved him with all my heart.

 

Books are a portal and a shield – a friend and a mentor – a mirror and a sword – a companion and a map. Books change our lives in ways we don’t even see until far later in life.

 

So, looking back on Jacob I Have Loved, I couldn’t bring myself to make that painful journey with Louise again – I couldn’t allow myself to feel the ache of being the overlooked, misunderstood one even though in the end it is Louise who is a good, strong and loving woman who sees the world clearly.

 

But I can tell you this, if I never open that book again, it will remain on my bookshelf with the other Books of Honor – those that are portal, shield, friend, mentor, mirror, sword, companion and map – it will sit there with some of the greatest works of literature and some complete unknowns. Why? Because it was not only all those things to me, but also a lifesaver because Katherine Paterson UNDERSTANDS.

 

So, other Rescued Souls – to what writer, to what book, do you owe your salvaged childhood?

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24 Responses to “Summer Reads: JACOB I HAVE LOVED, by Katherine Paterson”

  1. AJ O'Donovan August 25, 2008 at 12:13 pm #

    i loved the line “Books are a portal and a shield – a friend and a mentor – a mirror and a sword – a companion and a map. Books change our lives in ways we don’t even see until far later in life.”
    It is just so true to me. I grew up with my head in a book and more than once they saved me from the lowest points of my childhood. I’m glad i’m not the only one.

  2. Feisty August 25, 2008 at 2:02 pm #

    This will sound odd, but I think it was the Ramona series by Beverly Cleary. Those were the first chapter books I read, and I must have been about seven. My own life was so different than Ramona’s, I would lose myself totally. I wanted to live with the Cleary’s, be part of their life. We moved constantly, and those books helped me by being one of the only steady things around me. I read them over and over and over. I think they even got me writing at a young age.

    The other book that changed my life was Diary of Ann Frank. My mom made me read it when I was ten. I think that instilled the fear of war that is deep rooted in my psyche, even to this day.

  3. briaq August 25, 2008 at 2:11 pm #

    Thanks Ayla – I’m so glad to hear it – and back attcha.

  4. briaq August 25, 2008 at 2:12 pm #

    Feisty – that totally makes sense – I think people underestimate how important consistancy of SOMETHING can be to us when we’re young – I’m so glad you had those, they’re great books 🙂

  5. Charlotte McClain August 25, 2008 at 2:22 pm #

    The Hobbit really changed my life when I found it in the school library in 5th grade. Not only did my reading levels shoot up from a 4th grade level to a 9th grade level within 2 years, but the fact that it was about a little guy who changed the world really resonated. And yes, I was the kid who got left behind and I was referred to as “the accident” because my parents already had to 2 kids they planned on when I appeared. Oddly, being referred to as the accident didn’t bother me until I was an adult and it was point out to me how rude it was.

  6. briaq August 25, 2008 at 2:31 pm #

    Wow Charlotte –

    Thanks for sharing. That is a not-funny-family-joke. . . definitely! It’s amazing what we grow up thinking is acceptable only to realize as adults that we wouldn’t treat a child (or an adult) that way.

    That’s another great book too!

  7. Lia Morgan August 25, 2008 at 2:53 pm #

    I would have to agree with the author, but not that book, although Jacob Have I Loved sat on my shelf for years, signed by the author, no less. I met Katherine Patterson when I was in the sixth grade. But mine would have to be Bridge to Terabithia. I read it in the fifth grade. That year was the first time I had ever known anyone that died. It was the first time life intruded on childhood. I will remember that book forever.

  8. briaq August 25, 2008 at 3:01 pm #

    That is a wonderful book Lia – It’s a re-reader for me. Tears every time.

    I hadn’t had a death near me at that time – not till much later, but I think it’s the thing that prepared me most.

    And the relationships in it were so rich, so life-deepening. Paterson is a writing-goddess.

  9. Rob Graham August 25, 2008 at 3:07 pm #

    The book that most affected me wasn’t a work of fiction. And I discovered it rather late in my life, in my forties.

    That book is Voltaire’s Bastards – The Dictatorship of Reason in The West by John Ralston Saul. Part history book, part philosophy, it helped me at a time I was struggling to find a place in the world. And losing.

    Since that time I can’t make a move without making a nod in its direction.

  10. briaq August 25, 2008 at 3:23 pm #

    Wow, Rob – that is a heavy book. It is amazing how late our ah’s can come — Even when they happened young, I probably didn’t note it until I was an adult anyway 🙂

  11. Gwen Hayes August 25, 2008 at 3:31 pm #

    I read the Handmaid’s Tale right after I graduated high school and I think it made me take myself as a woman more seriously.

  12. MG Braden August 25, 2008 at 3:35 pm #

    For me it was the discovery of Nancy Drew mysteries at a young age. Nancy Drew was everything I was not… beautiful, cool, popular and she had a boyfriend. Those books started a love of mysteries that continues to this day, although now it is more suspense-filled than cozy. After that it was probably Judy Blume books. Are you There God? It’s Me, Margaret

    One specific book I will remember forever is Go Ask Alice by Anonymous. While I don’t believe it was an actual teen diary (now, I did then), it did seriously freak me out about a lot of things and I think I made smart choices because of it.

  13. briaq August 25, 2008 at 3:36 pm #

    Gwen – I LOVE that book – it seems you either love it or hate it. I never thought about it like that, but yeah, I can definitely see it doing that for a young woman.

  14. briaq August 25, 2008 at 3:39 pm #

    MG – all good choices!!!

    I think Go As Alice did that for like 2 generations — I loved that book. The idea of being responsible for poor decisions even after you work to start making good ones – sad, but a good lesson.

    If you haven’t, read Jay Asher’s 13 Reasons Why — I said it before, I’ll say it again, I think its going to be this generation’s Go Ask Alice.

  15. jodi August 26, 2008 at 4:14 am #

    I read Robin Hood and His Merry Men. Looking back on it, I think I read too much classical romance. L’ Morte de Arthur, Tristan and Isolde, The White Company, Ivanhoe, The Scarlet Pimpernel and the Two Zenda novels. Y’know, in the absence of strong role models, books help create your personality. I did myself no favors imprinting on guys with more chivalry than brains.

  16. briaq August 26, 2008 at 2:03 pm #

    Jodi!!! That’s too funny – There’s a book called “Wild at Heart” that talks about men’s lives and the “adventure” and such — one of the things he says is that in the great scheme of things (both men and women) long for ‘the princess’ to be part of the adventure – not THE adventure itself — I think that’s what I always saw in the classics when I was young.

    I think I made up for that by just rewriting them in my head with me in the lead!!! lol

  17. Lillian Feisty August 27, 2008 at 10:37 pm #

    OMG, the Handmaid’s Tale. I still think about saving butter in case I can’t get access to lotion.

  18. briaq August 27, 2008 at 11:12 pm #

    And that’s why Feisty will always be hotter than me — I’d be saving the butter for my thighs, via english muffins.

  19. Lillian Feisty August 28, 2008 at 12:43 am #

    LOL. That would work, too. I do like muffins. But I live in the high desert so I have issues. It’s dry here. I need lotion.

  20. sandrar September 10, 2009 at 9:29 am #

    Hi! I was surfing and found your blog post… nice! I love your blog. 🙂 Cheers! Sandra. R.

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