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If Jack's in Love

If Jack's in Love

4.5 8
by Stephen Wetta

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Every neighborhood has that house: The one with the broken down cars in the front yard; the one where the father is always out of work and starting fights with other dads;the one no one wants to go near. Twelve-year-old Jack Witcher lives in that house.

And that’s just where his problems begin.

It is 1967 and Jack’s father has lost his job, yet


Every neighborhood has that house: The one with the broken down cars in the front yard; the one where the father is always out of work and starting fights with other dads;the one no one wants to go near. Twelve-year-old Jack Witcher lives in that house.

And that’s just where his problems begin.

It is 1967 and Jack’s father has lost his job, yet again. The war in Vietnam is perpetually on the news, and Jack is in love with a girl named Myra. But Myra’s family is the opposite of Jack’s. Her father is well dressed and well spoken. Her brother is the town’s golden boy. Jack schemes to win Myra’s love with the only person in town who will deign to be his friend, the town jeweler and sole Jew. But when Myra’s brother goes missing, Jack’s pot-smoking older brother becomes suspect number one...

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
On the bottom of the social ladder, daily life is riven with scorn, and adolescent Jack Witcher, the youngest son of an unemployed father and beleaguered mother, knows it well. Wetta's debut portrays the fictional El Dorado Hills in Virginia during the late 1960s with Southern gothic flair. The tale revolves around a popular boy going missing and suspicion falling on Jack's violent, druggy brother, which affects Jack's love life, as he's fallen for the missing boy's sister, and divides a family's loyalties between those willing to lie and abet and those who cannot. On a deeper level, the plot reveals class issues and their exacerbation by the threat of violence. Deftly, Wetta illuminates the gulf between the innocence of age 12 and the realizations that arise at 13, allowing Jack to evolve as he navigates among misfit characters, including a Jewish jeweler, a black handyman, a family transplanted from Dallas, Tex., and his own brother and "hillbilly" father. At turns unsparing, tender, and disturbing when it comes to rivalry and the nuances of love versus obligation, this is no typical bildungsroman. That Jack emerges from a crucible determined never to look back is unsurprising; it is the path leading him to this conclusion that is intelligently, wonderfully conceived. (Oct.)
"If Jack's in Love is a moving portrait of a specific time, family and town, but also a universal story of growing up and coming to terms with the people-and places-that raise us, told with all the humor, truth and urgency of its teenage hero. It may have taken the first half of his life to write, but Wetta's touching novel was well worth the wait."
-The Wall Street Journal
"...[Y]ou should read this wonderfully written marvel of a book: a work both gripping and hilarious, joyous and heartbreakingly bittersweet."
-The Daily Beast
". . . terrific . . . raw and complicated . . . keeps us gripped until the end."
Library Journal
First-time novelist Wetta stays on well-trod territory here: a boy must navigate the complex loyalties and curious alliances among both adults and his cruel peers. The 12-year-old narrator, Jack Witcher, is caught between the class-related anger of his brother and father and his love for his wealthy classmate Myra. Things become more complicated when Jack's brother is identified as the main suspect in the disappearance of Myra's brother. Reminiscent of Stephen King's novella The Body but lacking its wistful charm, this debut reads more like a generic script for the perennial film about late-1960s small-town prejudices. Despite its considerable length, the novel offers only canned emotions, and the reader comes away with little feel for the characters or even the story's consequences. Female characters get particularly short treatment, summed up by the creepy advice of a shop owner to the young hero about the importance of "blossoming young tits." VERDICT While Wetta offers an occasional memorable line ("Families live on loyalty more than love"), the book is simply not very interesting. [See Prepub Alert, 4/11/11.]—Travis Fristoe, Alachua Cty. Lib. Dist., FL
Kirkus Reviews
Caught between love and loyalty, young Jack cannot seem to make a decision that doesn't feel wrong.

In Wetta's debut novel, Jack is a Witcher, son of a sometime mechanic, sometime unemployed hillbilly father and a poor-but-respectable mother. The Witchers are trash, publicly labeled as such. Their house, with a maybe-useful commode in the mostly dirt yard, scars El Dorado Hills, a 1967 Virginia suburb where good folks like the Coghills, Joyners and Kellners worry about Vietnam and integration and wish the Witchers elsewhere. But soon-to-be-13 Jack loves Myra Joyner, and that's a problem. It happens too that Jack's older brother, long-haired, pot-smoking Stanley, hates Myra's bother, Duke University–bound Gaylord Joyner, recent usurper of good girl Courtney Blankenship's affections. Wetta's narrative weaves Jack's pursuit of Myra around Stan's tendency to bloody the nose of anyone who offers a slight, real or imagined, a trait inherited from Witcher senior. Jack's ally in his quest is another outsider, Moses Gladstein, a Jewish jeweler from New Jersey. Myra likes Jack, primarily because Jack is the school's smartest kid, and Stan has found a new love in Anya, hippie daughter of the Taylors, rich folk new in the neighborhood. The characters are realistic, especially the Witchers, even Stan, whose thin-skinned "Don't tread on me" attitude ranges beyond the borders of sanity. Witcher-snobs are drawn with less intensity, although the white-bread image of a newly enrolled Klansman named Pudding hits the mark. Gaylord goes missing, Stan is accused and the Witchers are shunned and harassed. Jack puzzles through the story, but the dichotomy between his intellectual superiority and pubescent emotional behavior sometimes seems off-kilter. Jack understands that "Families live on loyalty more than love..." It's the costs of loyalty that causes him pain.

In the vein ofTo Kill a Mockingbird,but about class rather than race, and lacking a bit of its righteous moral clarity.

From the Publisher
“Terrific…you should read this wonderfully written marvel of a book: a work both gripping and hilarious, joyous and heartbreakingly bittersweet.” —The Wall Street Journal

“It took Stephen Wetta fifty-five years to write his promising first novel … I only hope Mr. Wetta writes a little faster next time so I’ll be around to say I told you so.” —Pete Dexter

“This is a lovely, passionate, and compelling … a book you won’t want to put down.” —Winston Groom, author of Forrest Gump

“At turns unsparing, tender, and disturbing….intelligently, wonderfully conceived.” —Publisher’s Weekly, starred review

“Heartfelt, heartbreaking, suspenseful, and riveting… The novel, full of beautifully realized characters and predicaments, gets everything exactly right.” —Timothy Schaffert, award-winning author of The Coffins of Little Hope

“I loved this novel! Like To Kill a Mockingbird, Whistling in the Dark… Jack Witcher will charm you, break your heart . . . surprise you on nearly every page … [and] stay with you long after the final satisfying page.” —Katrina Kittle, author of The Blessings of the Animals

"A powerful story … Wetta captures with great charm and grit the joys and aches of a first love complicated by social boundaries and familial expectations…. a fast-moving tale.” —Lee Martin, author of The Bright Forever and Break the Skin

Product Details

Penguin Group (USA) Incorporated
Publication date:
Product dimensions:
8.54(w) x 5.70(h) x 1.20(d)
Age Range:
18 Years

What People are Saying About This

From the Publisher
"A powerful story … Wetta captures with great charm and grit the joys and aches of a first love complicated by social boundaries and familial expectations…. a fast-moving tale.” —Lee Martin, author of The Bright Forever and Break the Skin

Meet the Author

Stephen Wetta is a native of Richmond, Virginia. He received his Bachelor's Degree from VCU and received Ph. D. at New York University. Stephen is currently an English professor at Hunter College. If Jack’s in Love is his first novel.

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If Jack's in Love 4.5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 8 reviews.
Ruth38 More than 1 year ago
I loved this book. Jack will win your heart and so will the writing. The Publisher's Weekly review got it exactly right. I found myself laughing out loud yet was also very moved by Jack's story. It's sweet, deep, and funny.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Excellent read! It is disturbing, sweet, and very funny in parts. The story is a great cautionary tale and it really allows the reader to feel the other side of being shunned and bullied. My heart ached for both Jack and his family. I loved that it was set in the 60's. I couldn't help but wonder how things would be different if these events unfolded today. Most definitely worth reading!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
bookchickdi More than 1 year ago
Amy Einhorn Books excels at finding debut novelists with unique voices- Eleanor Brown's The Weird Sisters, Alex George's The Good American and most famously, Kathryn Stockett's The Help. All of these books draw the reader into another world with strong characters and writing. Add to that list Stephen Wetta with his debut novel If Jack's In Love. Set in a Virginia suburb in 1967, Jack Witcher is a twelve-year-old boy with a gifted intellect and a difficult home life. His mother is a kind woman burdened with a husband who cannot hold a job, fights with the neighbors and holds his intelligent son in disdain. Jack's older brother Stan follows in their father's violent footsteps, drinking, smoking pot, fighting and getting in trouble with the law. Needless to say, the Witcher family is not a popular one in the neighborhood. Jack has a crush on beautiful Myra who responds to Jack's sweetness. But when Myra's brother, the high school football hero, goes missing, Stan is the prime suspect after having a fight with the boy. Once again, Jack's family has hurt him. Mr. Gladstein is the owner of a local jewelry store and Jack's only friend. The man tries to help Jack woo Myra, and he is one of the few people in town who show Jack's plain mother any type of kindness or interest. Jack's father comes up with a plan to rob Mr. Gladstein, and Jack must thwart the plot without his father finding out. Jack is a wonderful character, and watching him try to survive and thrive in a home where his intellect is stifled and mocked is difficult. His poor beaten-down mother does her best, but she is no match for her physically powerful husband and other son. The book grabs you from the opening line: "I'll never know for sure whether I'd have fought my brother or not. Maybe I might have killed him. The day came and I made the decision. But I will never know." How can you resist reading on? The author's take on the complexities of love and family intrigued me. Jack's mom explains why she married his dad this way: "I knew he'd never get it in his head he was too good for me. He has an inferiority complex a mile wide. Most people can't see that, but I saw it right away." Jack "went to (his) room and meditated on the mysteries of women, deeper that all the philosophies of humankind put together." On families, Jack thinks: "Families live on loyalty more than love, and it wasn't fear that made me keep my mouth shut. I could never forget that Stan bled for me. And yet I was terrified of him." If Jack's In Love is a book written for adults, but there is much here for teens to appreciate. Jack is an outsider, torn between his love for his mother, and yes even his father and brother, and his desire to have a different, better life. His feelings are no doubt shared by many adolescents, and this book would be a great one for high school English classes.
TheReadingWriter More than 1 year ago
Wetta has written that rare novel that can truly be called a “crossover,” in the sense that it speaks to adults just as it speaks to teens. It raises questions that are not really resolved, and speaks to the nature of fiction itself. If we change just one thing in one’s life, does that make all the rest a fiction? Jack presents us with two alternate histories: one in which his brother is transgresser, and one in which his brother is transgressed upon. In the first history, his father is a rough and a cad, while in the second, he is vulnerable yet protective of his sons. The fact that alternative histories are presented tells us something about Jack’s ambivalence, though one of the histories lay on the cutting room floor at the end of the novel. I remember those days of childhood when one begins to perceive the outlines of “truth;” when another person’s truth is not precisely as we ourselves have observed it to be. We begin to suspect those others; we begin to suspect ourselves. This is a book, I guess, about love. But it seems more a book about a family (“Families live on loyalty more than love…”), or perhaps just a young boy: a young boy just discerning the truth about people, about his family, about his neighborhood, about black people and Jewish people, about policemen and villains. It is a story of a stiff-spined boy who grew into a stiff-spined man. He claims to have had a brother and father who taught him forgiveness could be weakness. He was saved by his mother, a kind woman, though she recognized some failing in him: “You’ll be a lot harder than your father or brother ever were. You’ll never do anything wrong, not you. But my God you’re going to be hard.” Jack may have thought that was a good thing—a carapace of steel should save him from the vagaries of love and loyalty. Jack Witcher begins his story when he is thirteen and “already tragic.” Exceptionally imaginative, he has a hard time sorting truth from fiction, and creates an alternate universe in which the haunting experience of finding a corpse in the woods merges with the perfectly normal wish for an older brother to get his come-uppance and his parents’ divorce to be explained. “Maybe I might have killed him.” Jack is uncertain exactly how to deal with an unruly older brother, but one thing is clear. He’ll create a story in which that brother is dealt with severely. How much is truth and how much is fiction? That is where we will differ. This may be a good book to carry on the family vacation this summer. It has clever observances that make us laugh out loud, it raises social issues, and it plays with our sense of reality. It might make for good conversation around the campfire, on the lake, or at the dinner table.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Daniel332 More than 1 year ago
The reader will feel the heart of Jack, the twelve year old protagonist, as the sickening events implicating his only brother in the death of a neighbor become inescapable. Are these things circumstantial and there is still room for the hope of some other possibility? Is Jack himself in danger as he slowly becomes unglued? The author builds a creepy suspense, and the reader looks for the people in Jack's life on whom he can really count. Because even though Jack is so intelligent and perceptive and street wise to some extent, he is only a boy.
Icecream18 More than 1 year ago
Jack, the main character, guides the reader through this thought-provoking novel. He is sincerely sweet and only 12 years old. He thinks he is in love with Myra, a girl whose brother disappears-Jack's brother is the main suspect. Jack doesn't really know what to make of this. He handles it in a mature way for a 12 year old. No one in their small town has a particularly high opinion of Jack's family as it is, making it all the harder on Jack. This novel is fast-paced, the events are surprising and enlightening. Written in a difficult time-the 1960's-this novel is intriguing and touches on quite a few hard subjects. The ending is bittersweet as well as decidedly perfect for this novel. This novel is recommended for young adult/adult readers.