The Mostly True Story of Jack

The Mostly True Story of Jack

by Kelly Barnhill


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Newbery Medal-winner Kelly Barnhill's debut novel is an eerie tale of magic, friendship, and sacrifice.

Enter a world where magic bubbles just below the surface. . . .

When Jack is sent to Hazelwood, Iowa, to live with his strange aunt and uncle, he expects a summer of boredom. Little does he know that the people of Hazelwood have been waiting for him for quite a long time. When he arrives, he begins to make actual friends for the first time in his life-but the town bully beats him up and the richest man in town begins to plot Jack's imminent, and hopefully painful, demise. It's up to Jack to figure out why suddenly everyone cares so much about him. Back home he was practically... invisible.

The Mostly True Story of Jack is a stunning debut novel about things broken, things put back together, and finding a place to belong.

"There's a dry wit and playfulness to Barnhill's writing that recalls Lemony Snicket and Blue Balliett...a delightfully unusual gem." --Los Angeles Times

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780316056724
Publisher: Little, Brown Books for Young Readers
Publication date: 09/11/2012
Pages: 352
Sales rank: 222,753
Product dimensions: 5.25(w) x 7.62(h) x 0.87(d)
Age Range: 8 - 12 Years

About the Author

Kelly Barnhill is a poet and writer who also wrote The Witch's Boy and Iron Hearted Violet. The Mostly True Story of Jack, her debut novel, received four starred reviews. Kelly lives in Minnesota with her husband and three children.

Read an Excerpt

The Mostly True Story of Jack

By Barnhill, Kelly

Little, Brown Books for Young Readers

Copyright © 2011 Barnhill, Kelly
All right reserved.

ISBN: 9780316056700

Chapter One

They Notice

FRANKIE WAS THE FIRST TO KNOW. FRANKIE WAS THE FIRST to know most things—but since he hadn’t spoken since he was eight years old, it didn’t matter what he knew. He couldn’t tell anyone. Not so they could hear anyway. He sat at the dinner table, picking at his potatoes and pot roast, when a sound blew in from the wide expanse of the prairie.

A single high note, like a bell.

The rest of his family ate, wiped their faces, and excused themselves from the table. They didn’t notice the sound.

Frankie laid his left hand over the knot of scars that curled over half his face. No one knew who or what had given him those scars, or what happened to him when he was taken away at the age of eight and returned, marked and silent, two months later. Frankie would not, could not, tell. After all these years, the scars were still puffed and angry and very, very red. The kids in town called him Slasher Face or Freak Show. His mother said his face looked like a field of roses. What his mother did not know was that the scars had memories. They knew things.

It’s coming, the scars said. It’s back, they whispered.

No, Frankie thought, shaking his head. Not it. He. He’s coming.

We knew he’d come back.

That night, Frankie’s twin sister, Wendy, woke to a dream of bells. She sat up in bed, wide-eyed and panting. The night was silent except for the early notes of crickets warming up for their summer-long choruses in the backyard.

But she smelled something. Something sweet and strange that she had not smelled since both she and her brother were eight years old—the year that Frankie disappeared and came back again.

“What is that smell?” she asked her mother at breakfast.

“Bacon,” her mother said, handing her a plate.

“No, not that smell. The other one. The sweet smell.”

“Bacon is sweet,” her mother said in a tired voice as she poured her coffee into a chipped blue mug and drank it, black and steaming, in two quick gulps. She winced. “Eat your bacon,” she said. “On your last day of school, I’d like you to be on time for once. Maybe we can trick your teachers into raising their expectations for you for next year.”

Fat chance, Wendy wanted to say, but didn’t.

Her mother lifted a heavy bag of dog food and brought it to the backyard, much to the slobbering joy of their three very large, very loud, and very stupid dogs.

“And anyway,” Wendy said with her mouth full. “Bacon isn’t sweet.” But her mother had already walked out of the room and didn’t hear her.

Frankie padded down the stairs, already dressed, washed, combed, and set to go. Typical, Wendy thought, gulping down her orange juice. He sat down next to her and took her hand.

“Frankie,” she began, though she knew he wouldn’t answer her. “Do you smell that—?” Frankie lifted her hand to his face, laying her fingers on his ruined cheek. “Frankie, seriously, I don’t want to touch your scars, I—” She gasped. The scars burned and buzzed under her fingers.

Frankie looked at his sister, his eyes calm and unblinking. He kept her palm on the side of his face.

“Oh,” she said, her stomach sinking. She turned toward the window that faced west and felt her knees start to shake. “Oh no.”

Outside of town, Wendy’s best friend, Anders, felt something that he couldn’t immediately explain. He had been standing for most of the early morning with four of his older brothers, leaning against the sunny side of the gray barn while his dad and his oldest brother, Lars, loaded up the tractor and the truck. The Nilsson boys had given notes to their teachers that they were needed in the fields and would not be present in the last week of school. Farming, thankfully, has never operated on a school schedule, and the boys were relieved of their books and put to work.

But not Anders.

Since he was only thirteen, he was one year too young.

Next year, his father said.

“Be good, little bro,” his brothers taunted from the truck. “Study hard,” they snickered as they drove off. Anders watched them as they drove down the well-grooved track, the wheels spitting a plume of dust behind. For a moment, their brilliant blond heads glinted through a brown cloud of dirt, but then there was only the cloud, and Anders was alone.

What his brothers and father did not know was that Anders had absolutely no intention of going to school. When the truck disappeared, he turned toward the broad stretch of field and the wooded bluff beyond and removed his shoes.

The ground was cool, still, and damp, though the day was already warm and would likely get hot. He began to walk, though he did not know where he would go. His feet, he knew, would lead him somewhere interesting. They always did.

But on the sixth step, he felt something different. A humming sensation in the grass. On the seventh step it was stronger. By the time he had gone thirty paces, the ground pricked at his toes as though with electric shocks.

He’d felt it before. A long time ago.

“So,” he said out loud. The bees hummed, the ground hummed, even his bones and skin hummed and hummed. “So it’s coming back. Now. Right?” He waited, as though someone might bother to answer: the growing corn, the tangled wood, the clear wide sky. Nothing did. Anyway, he was pretty sure the answer was yes.

Removing the green seed cap from his shock of blond hair, he rubbed the ragged border between his neck and scalp. The wind blew across the patchworked fields, ringing across the broad, flat farms to the edge of the sky. The breeze smelled of turned earth and dry seed and fertilizer.

It smelled like something else too. Something sweet and sick all at once, like rat poison dipped in candy. He ran back and grabbed his shoes.

School, then, he decided. It was only one more day.

Besides. He had to talk to Wendy.


Excerpted from The Mostly True Story of Jack by Barnhill, Kelly Copyright © 2011 by Barnhill, Kelly. Excerpted by permission.
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