Finding Jack

( 25 )


When the war ends, how do you leave your best friend behind?

After losing his young family in a tragic accident, Fletcher Carson joins the flagging war effort in Vietnam. Deeply depressed, he plans to die in the war. But during one of his early missions, Fletcher rescues a critically wounded yellow Lab whom he nurses back to health and names Jack. As Fletcher and Jack patrol and survive the forests of Vietnam, Fletcher slowly regains the will ...

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Finding Jack: A Novel

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When the war ends, how do you leave your best friend behind?

After losing his young family in a tragic accident, Fletcher Carson joins the flagging war effort in Vietnam. Deeply depressed, he plans to die in the war. But during one of his early missions, Fletcher rescues a critically wounded yellow Lab whom he nurses back to health and names Jack. As Fletcher and Jack patrol and survive the forests of Vietnam, Fletcher slowly regains the will to live.

At the end of the war, the U.S. Government announces that due to the cost of withdrawal, all U.S. dogs serving in the war have been declared “surplus military equipment” and will not be transported home. For the hundreds of dog handlers throughout Vietnam, whose dogs had saved countless lives, the news is greeted with shock and disbelief. For Fletcher, he knows that if he abandons Jack, then he too will be lost. Ordered to leave Jack behind, he refuses—and so begins their journey.

Based on the actual existence and abandonment of canine units in Vietnam, Gareth Crocker’s Finding Jack is a novel of friendship and love under desperate circumstances that will grab your heart and won’t let go.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"Rarely have I read so moving an account of the heroism of animals, the compassion of the humans who love them, and the transformational relation  ships that can spring up between the two.  This is a story that will continue to live with you long after you've turned the last page."

—Gwen Cooper, author of the New York Times bestseller Homer's Odyssey

"Like angels, great dogs find us, then lead us home. Finding Jack is the story of a man who had lost his way, and with the help of a selfless, heroic dog, finds it again. A story of redemption, determination, and unstoppable love, Finding Jack compels us to ask the question: do we have what it takes to be a hero?"

—Steve Duno, author of Last Dog on the Hill

"Finding Jack is more than a novel of the relationship between a man and his faithful companion. It is the story of the bonds between man and dog, warriors and best friends. Finding Jack shows us the lengths that one man is willing to go to — and the rules he's willing to break at the risk of his own life — to save the life of another being. As a Marine who's seen his share of combat and rescued a dog from certain death in hell, I can relate to the many unspoken reasons for not only finding, but saving, Jack. This story is about humanity and doing what it takes to maintain your humanity in the face of depravity."

 —Jay Kopelman, author of the New York Times bestseller From Baghdad with Love: A Marine, the War, and a Dog Named Lava

“the novel is quick and captivating.  Ultimately, it’s not the sensational Hollywood-style action that will stick with readers, but instead the humbling, eternal friendship between man and dog.”

The Christian Science Monitor

Publishers Weekly
This debut is undone by improbable action scenes and glaring errors of fact, resulting in a sappy and unbelievable story. In 1972, 29-year-old Fletcher Carson enlists to fight in Vietnam after his family is killed in a plane crash. With the war nearly over, Fletcher and his platoon gripe about the futility of the conflict as they embark on reconnaissance patrols and impossible secret missions. During one patrol, the men find a wounded trained scout dog that they name Jack, nurse back to health, and adopt as their mascot. Jack repays them by sniffing out mines, booby traps, and ambushes, saving many lives. When it's time for Fletcher to head home, he can't bear the thought of leaving Jack to die in Vietnam, so he deserts and attempts to walk with Jack the 350 miles to Thailand, with Jack proving his mettle yet again after they encounter trouble en route. Unfortunately, unconvincing scenarios (sending relatively inexperienced troops on a special-ops type mission) and military inaccuracies (there is no such thing as a Phantom helicopter, for instance) dilute and distract from what could be an evocative story. (Feb.)
Library Journal
In 1972, a despondent Fletcher Carlson joins the U.S. Army after the deaths of his wife and daughter. Despite his almost-suicidal depression, he bonds with the men in his platoon and becomes a good soldier in the final days of the Vietnam War. While on patrol, Carlson and his unit are approached by a stray dog. Wounded and ill, Jack is nursed back to health by Carlson and his buddies and trained to help them on missions by detecting mines and snipers. When the cease-fire ends combat, Carlson discovers that the military considers dogs surplus equipment to be left behind. Distraught at the thought of yet another loss, Carlson decides to do what any dedicated dog owner would do: walk with Jack to the safety of Thailand, hundreds of miles to the west. VERDICT Loosely based on the actual canine units that served with the American troops in Vietnam, this first novel should appeal to fans of both dog and military fiction. [See Prepub Alert, LJ 9/15/10.]—Dan Forrest, Western Kentucky Univ., Bowling Green
Kirkus Reviews

Soldier finds dog. Soldier loses dog. Soldier finds dog.

After his wife and daughter die in a plane crash, writer Fletcher Carson finds little to live for. After trying, but failing, to take his own life, he becomes inspired to enlist as a soldier and in the waning days of the war goes to Vietnam. There he's with a platoon called the Fat Lady (because the opera/war won't be over till she sings). On a dangerous reconnaissance mission deep in the jungle, the platoon unexpectedly (and somewhat unaccountably) comes across a badly wounded Labrador Retriever. Lt. Rogan, the platoon leader, orders Carson to shoot it, for he knows that sometimes dogs are cunningly wired to detonate and kill American troops, but Carson feels an immediate connection to the dog and refuses to obey Rogan's direct order, endangering the men and enraging the lieutenant. Carson rescues the dog and takes it back to the base, enlisting the help of a veterinary-school dropout to bring the dog back to some semblance of health. Although Carson suspects the dog, whom he names Jack, has been trained by Americans to sniff out trip wires and booby traps, he's unable to find the canine unit to which it had been attached, so he keeps it to protect his own platoon. Naturally, Jack responds by saving Rogan's life. When a truce is declared and the troops are scheduled to return to the United States, Carson finds to his horror that Army dogs are regarded as "surplus military equipment" too expensive to ship home. He finds the order to abandon the dog unacceptable, so he remains behind with Jack, promising to get him out by tromping 350 miles through Vietnam, Laos and eventually into Thailand. Along the way, Carson gets captured, Jack disappears, Carson escapes, Jack reappears and Carson (with Rogan's help) eventually makes it back.

A predictable plot with a sentimental streak a mile wide.

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781250003843
  • Publisher: St. Martin's Press
  • Publication date: 2/14/2012
  • Pages: 304
  • Sales rank: 723,245
  • Product dimensions: 5.40 (w) x 8.20 (h) x 0.90 (d)

Meet the Author

GARETH CROCKER has worked as a journalist, copywriter, news editor, public relations manager, publishing editor and, most recently, head of communications and spokesperson for a multinational corporation. Finding Jack is his first novel.

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Read an Excerpt

Finding Jack

A Novel
By Gareth Crocker

St. Martin's Griffin

Copyright © 2012 Gareth Crocker
All right reserved.

ISBN: 9781250003843

   Four days later, the Fat Lady was finally on its way to the extraction point. Drained both physically and mentally, they had gathered all the information they required and plotted the coordinates of numerous enemy bunkers, hooches concealing munitions and food supplies, at least half a dozen field bases, and a bridge that, once taken out, would seriously hamper the NVA’s supply line. Fletcher was startled at just how quickly Charlie was advancing and how strong he had become. He was on the ascendancy, dramatically so, and they all knew it. Despite his thousands of dead, the war was his to win. All they could do now was try to slow him down.

   They had narrowly missed being intercepted by NVA patrols and had twice been forced to separate. In the end, they had conducted most of their forays in two squads: one headed by Rogan and the other by Wayville, who, before being assigned to the Fat Lady, was a fully fledged operational squad leader.

   With only two kilometers left to hike, the men were quiet. Having survived a week in the enemy’s basement, they were anxious for fresh air. Mitchell, still at point, was completely wired and absolutely focused. He appeared determined not to let his guard down.  He seemed to regard Charlie’s traps not so much as weapons of war, but more as personal affronts. He would shuffle forward a few steps, then stop, breathe deeply, scan the area in front of him, and then dart forward again. Sometimes he would rub his hands on the ground and lick the tips of his fingers. Fletcher wondered, with genuine concern, how he would ever adapt back to normal life. 

   As was typical toward the end of an assignment, Rogan dropped to the back of the platoon to shepherd his men from the rear. Within a matter of hours, their entire area of operations would be the subject of an intense bombing campaign. Most of the men they had stolen past, laughing and drinking cheap alcohol outside huts and bunkers, would soon either be dead or wishing they were. The thing about war is that you could be on the winning side before breakfast, but still be dead by nightfall. 

   The thought brought no joy to Fletcher.


   “What is it?” Kingston asked.

   Mitchell shook his head as if his eyes were deceiving him. “A dog.”

   Fletcher turned to his right. In the distance, a yellow Labrador with its tongue lolling out the side of its mouth emerged from between the trees. The animal was moving badly, favoring its left side.  What appeared to be a large cut ran from the top of its back down its front leg. Flies, like a black mist, hung over the wound. More disturbing, though, was a swollen mass of what looked like dried blood caked under its neck. “What the hell is a dog doing out here? Christ, look at him.”

   Rogan briefly studied the animal, then gestured to Fletcher.

“Take him out.”


   “You heard me, Carson.”

   Fletcher was taken aback by the order. He watched as the dog slipped on the wet undergrowth and then struggled to get back up.

He looked weak and hungry. “What are you talking about?”

   “Are you deaf? Kill the fucking dog, that’s an order. There’s something around its neck, probably a mine.”

   Fletcher raised his rifle and looked through the scope. “It’s just blood and dirt.”

   “This isn’t a debate. Take the shot.”

   Fletcher followed the animal in his sights as it approached them.

In his first days in Vietnam, he’d spent some time at a base that had a dog unit attached to it. All the animals there had been German shepherds, but he had heard that there were many Labradors working as scout dogs throughout Vietnam, trained to provide early warning of enemy patrols, ambushes, mines, and traps. “I’m not doing it. There’s no danger.”

   Rogan placed his palm over the top of his sidearm, but kept it holstered. “Take the shot.”

   “You first,” Fletcher said, glancing down at the lieutenant’s hand.

   “What the fuck is wrong with you? It’s just a goddamn dog!”

   “He’s one of ours. The only Labradors in Vietnam belong to us.

He must’ve got separated from his handler. He’s a soldier, for Christ’s sake! Besides,” he bargained, “if I shoot, we’ll reveal our position—”

   “I’m warning you. This is your last chance.”

   “I’m not doing it.”

   The Labrador was less than a hundred yards away and closing.

   “Keens . . . take the shot,” Rogan instructed.

   Arnold Keens, who’d been watching their exchange in disbelief, recoiled at the sound of his name.

   “Your rifle, Keens! That metal thing strapped around your skinny neck. Use it! Take out the dog.”

   “C’mon, lieutenant you can’t expect Arnold—”

   “Shut up, Tucker.”

   “But, lieutenant, I . . . I can’t. Wh- what—”

   “Fire your weapon, son!”

   Reluctantly, Arnold raised his gun and took aim.

   “Don’t do it, Arnold. Let him come to us. He’s hurt. He recognizes our uniforms. He’s one of us. There’s no danger—”

   “Shut your mouth, Carson.”

   Fletcher turned to face the teenager. “Arnold, look at me. Please, don’t shoot him.”

   “Discharge your weapon, or I’ll have you thrown in prison!”

   Fletcher locked eyes with the young man and immediately realized he’d lost him. Arnold was scared to death and did not have the resolve to defy a direct order. Sorry, Fletcher, he mouthed.

   The Labrador, sensing that something was wrong, stopped walking.

   “Forgive me,” Arnold whispered, and squeezed off two rounds.

   The first shot punched into the dog’s chest, and the second into the top of his front leg.

   He collapsed onto his side and immediately tried to stand up, but his legs buckled under him. The wound in his chest, just below his head, was oozing thick black blood. Confused, he looked down and began to lick at the holes that were hurting him.

   Something unraveled in Fletcher’s mind. He threw off his pack and launched himself at Rogan.

   “Fletcher, no!” Travis yelled, scrambling toward them.

   A look of surprise lit up Rogan’s face. Before anyone could intervene, Fletcher lowered his shoulder and hit him in the stomach. The force of the blow lifted him off his feet and sent him hurtling into a tree. Fletcher charged after him and started swinging his fists wildly, connecting with his face and chest. “You fuck!”

   Wayville and Kingston quickly pulled Fletcher away. A thin rivulet of blood flowed from Rogan’s nose. “Have you lost your goddamn mind, Carson?”

   Fletcher didn’t reply. He couldn’t. His mind was teetering on the edge of a breakdown. He had rarely felt such anger, such hatred. He turned away and ran toward the dog.

   “No,” Gunther warned. “There could be traps.”

   But his words were lost to the jungle. Fletcher could think only of getting to the animal’s side. As he passed Arnold, the young man held up his arm. “I’m sorry, Fletcher. Please . . . I’m so sorry.”

   Fletcher struck out at his hand as if it was poisonous to the touch.

“Fuck off.”

   By the time he reached the dog, it was clear he was dying. His chest was heaving in an irregular motion. Blood from his wounds had formed a half moon around his body. There was blood, along with other fluids, draining from his nose. Kneeling down, Fletcher carefully placed his hand on the Labrador’s side to try to comfort him. As he touched his coat, the dog lifted his head and looked at him. Instead of fear, his eyes conveyed a look of sadness, a glimmer of betrayal. Fletcher felt his stomach tighten. “You were coming to us for help, weren’t you?”

   The dog tried to lick his hand, but was slipping away.

   Fletcher gently stroked the side of his face. “I’m so sorry, boy.”

   Then, steeling himself, he withdrew his sidearm. With his hand shaking and his vision blurred with emotion, he took aim. “Close your eyes.”

   The Labrador looked first at the gun and then back at him. Slowly, his tail swept across the ground.

   “No,” Fletcher pleaded, biting down on his lip hard enough to draw blood. “Please.” He was about to pull the trigger when he heard a voice over his shoulder.

   “Don’t do it,” Travis said softly, pushing the top of the gun down with his hand. “He deserves a chance to live.”


Excerpted from Finding Jack by Gareth Crocker Copyright © 2012 by Gareth Crocker. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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Reading Group Guide

1. In the Prologue, Fletcher tells Marvin that between an individual and his family, “there is no line...You’re one entity, and when a part of you is cut away, the rest of you slowly bleeds out” (p. 4). How does Jack influence Fletcher’s notion of family? Do you think Fletcher would make this statement at the end of the novel?

2. When Jack approaches The Fat Lady platoon, Fletcher and Rogan perceive his presence quite differently. Rogan instinctually sees the dog as a threat, while Fletcher senses that Jack was “‘coming to us for help’” (p. 50). What do you think of Rogan’s reaction? How does this conflict shed light on the war and its effect upon the soldiers?

3. How does the relationship between Fletcher and Jack resonate with you? Has there been a time when a dog (or other animal) “saved” you?

4. In the Author’s Note, we learn that Gareth Crocker bases his story on the real Vietnam war dogs who were declared “surplus military equipment” and left behind. How do you feel about the use of war dogs in the military? In what ways does Finding Jack shape your views?

5. Finding Jack touches on a few almost “supernatural” elements. A fiery apparition of Fletcher’s wife and daughter seems to lead him to safety, and Fletcher implies that Jack is the dog he intended to buy for Kelly. How do you interpret these supernatural occurrences? Are they products of Fletcher’s damaged mind? What do they say about the psychology of war?

6. At the end of the novel, we learn that Rogan lives alone and works as a night-shift security guard at a chemical factory. Given Rogan’s status in the war, and his achievements as a courageous leader, does this outcome surprise you? Why or why not?

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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4.5
( 25 )
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See All Sort by: Showing 1 – 20 of 25 Customer Reviews
  • Posted March 20, 2011


    Being a Vietnam Veteran and Military and Police Dog Handler I found too many technical mistakes in the book, Mr. Crocker being from South Africa should have consulted with a Vietnam Dog Handler and had one as a proofreader.
    Labs were used in Nam but not as scout dogs, they were used mainly as Trackers and then as mine & booby trap dogs.
    "Phantom helicopter gunships" they did not not exsist. A 7 man platoon? try at least 40. Infantryman is not a rank it is a MOS. An enlisted man would never call a base commander by his first name, neither would a Lt.
    Too many other mistakes to list. BUT, it was a good story.

    4 out of 5 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 21, 2012

    Best book I've read in a long time.

    Best book I've read in a long time.

    3 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 26, 2012


    I do not know too much about Vietnam and I knew nothing about dogs being used in Vietnam until I read this, and did some additional research. BUT it is now my favorite book, mostly because of the raw and compelling emotions. I do not enjoy reading books with alot of f-bombs but it fit in with this book. It is incredible, it will make you cry, feel sick, feel anxious, feel is so good. I had to read it in two days- I hated to sleep because the book just carried me away and I got so attached to the characters. Not slow at all. It is the best book I have read in a very long time, and I have read plenty! If you enjoy a little bit of deep reading without effort this is a great book. Just read it!!!

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted March 12, 2011

    This is the Best Book I have read in a Long While!

    You taste, feel and smell this book, it takes you to the jungles,during the war. I read this book in two days,because I had to know what happens next. I appreciated the novel more because I read "Paws to Protect, Dogs Saving Lives and Restoring Hope" and learned the fate of the soldiers dogs in the Vietnam War. When I was done reading it, I felt/feel an immense respect for the soldiers of the Vietnam War and a loss of respect for our government, for leaving the K-9 soldiers behind. This book is SO worth your time to read.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 28, 2012

    Loved it


    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted February 23, 2011

    more from this reviewer

    A must read about best friends

    A tragic accident takes away the very heart of Fletcher Carson, his wife and daughter. After their deaths he tries but finds he just can't cope with living without them, after a failed attempt at ending it all he decides to try suicide by war. It's late 1972 and the war in Vietnam is almost over, we're loosing more and more boys everyday and many question the cost of their sacrifice, here at home we protest daily and treat our home bound soldiers not with fanfare but with barbs and shouts, but in the field orders must still be followed and that's where we find Fletcher. While on patrol his platoon finds an injured Labrador retriever, the Lieutenant orders him shot, but Fletcher won't have it. The dog is ultimately taken back to base where he becomes much more than a pet, but an invaluable asset protecting the men out on patrol. Then the news comes the war is over, there is cheering and celebration until the final edict is announced, one that will change forever the lives of a few good men and one brave dog.
    Gareth Crocker made me relive my youth and not all pleasant memories. I remember being in high school in the early 70's hearing horror stories of big brother's, uncles' and sometimes father's of my classmates coming home from war, but not completely as they were never the same again, and then there were the stories of the ones that never came back. But the one thing I didn't know about was the fate of the thousands of war dogs in which only a fraction came home, most were euthanized and some were left to their own devices when the US pulled out of Vietnam.
    This is the fictional tale of one of the lucky ones, a tale that will make you laugh and make you cry, but it's a tale that had to be told, it's an important lesson to learn and Mr. Crocker does a wonderful job of telling it. He tells it, not in prose and flowery dialogue, but in a narrative that takes you into the jungles, on the bases and into the minds of the men who were there. He gives us colorful characters that he builds up and then takes away from us, not because he's cruel but because that's the way it was and he gives us characters that survive, that sacrificed and made it through and those are the characters that will stay with you long after the novel ends. This is a love story about a boy and a dog, it's a second coming of age story of someone who lost his way and found it again at the end of a leash. It's about camaraderie and deep friendship, about doing the right thing, it's about fate and it's ultimately about faith in the face of terror and destruction.
    Is this an easy book to read, no. You will cry a few tears. Is it worth those tears, definitely. All in all this is a feel good book, even though you have to wade through some pain. It's a novel for all ages, for all walks of life, it's a testament to those who give voice to those who have none to those who do the right thing.

    1 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted January 25, 2011

    more from this reviewer

    an interesting Vietnam War thriller

    In 1972, the family of twenty nine year old Fletcher Carson dies in a plane crash. Distraught and filled with survivor grief, Fletcher enlists in the army. After basic, he is sent to Vietnam.

    As the war winds down, Fletcher and his platoon complain about the uselessness of the combat, which has left so many of their comrades in arms dead and others mentally and physically destroyed. Yet though Fletcher and the other men know the war is lost they diligently still patrol the perimeter and perform secret missions. When they find a trained wounded scout dog, they bring the K9 back to camp. Calling him Jack, they help him heal. Jack joins them as a key member of the unit by locating deadly traps and ambushes. When Fletcher is assigned to go home, he wants to take his best friend Jack with him. Knowing he cannot do it through official channels, Fletcher deserts taking Jack on a three hundred and fifty mile trek through hostile territory hoping to reach Thailand.

    Finding Jack is an interesting Vietnam War thriller starring a mentally wounded warrior who was hurt with grief before he joined the army and the canine who becomes his family while saving his life by giving Fletcher a cause and subsequently a reason to live. Although some of the scenes the soldier and the dog get into seem over the top of Mt. Fansipan, fans who enjoy something different in their brothers of arms tales will want to accompany Fletcher and Jack as they run a deadly gauntlet.

    Harriet Klausner

    1 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted January 23, 2015

    more from this reviewer

    Great read for veterans

    As a Vietnam era vet and a present K-9 handler, this was a super read. The author captured the mood and language of that time period perfectly.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 21, 2014

    Finding Jack is an incredible story of a man who seems to have l

    Finding Jack is an incredible story of a man who seems to have lost it all. Carson Fletcher recently lost his wife and young daughter in an accident. He joins the military and finds a lifelong companion in Vietnam, a Labrador retriever. This story is full of emotion - it will make you laugh, cry, and fear what's next to come. If you're a dog lover you're sure to love this book. Gareth Crocker writes a heartfelt story that is sure to be a favorite.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted November 4, 2013

    I found the book inspiring and a must read book; I am also a vet

    I found the book inspiring and a must read book; I am also a veteran from the vietnam era and because that war was such a controversy and our military was treated badly by the american people, I feel the book came from the heart and a must read.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted October 24, 2013

    I read this book about 60 books ago, and it is still the one tha

    I read this book about 60 books ago, and it is still the one that sticks with me most and remains on the tip of my tongue. Being a female, I didn't have to face Vietnam, so It was tough reading at times, but I couldn't put it down. It left such a lasting impression I have decided I'm going to purchase multiple copies for vet friends who made it back. I read this book by accident, but am VERY glad I did (and I have never before bothered to comment about any literary work--so thanks to the author!)

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  • Anonymous

    Posted October 9, 2012


    Finding jack was such a good book. It was very sad thouh but it made alot sense so I could know whats going on in the book

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 30, 2012

    By far, the best book I have read in a long time. I was so into

    By far, the best book I have read in a long time. I was so into it, that I read the last 80 pages in just over an hour. Definitely worth the money. Plus, I emailed Gareth telling him how much I loved the book, and he emailed back. He seems to be a very down to earth guy. Great great great book.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 28, 2012

    heartbreaking and heartoverwhelming

    awesome. you won't put it down. one of the best books I have ever read. Tough read, because of the truth behind it's story.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted October 27, 2012


    Amazing book

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    Posted November 23, 2011

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    Posted January 30, 2014

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    Posted February 23, 2012

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    Posted October 1, 2011

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    Posted May 8, 2011

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