Friday, June 17, 2011

Jacob Have I Loved

Okay, let me clear up something first, in case the title caused you the same confusion it did me when I started this book: there is no character named Jacob and there is no romance. As it turns out, the title is actually a reference to some bible passage that goes "Jacob have I loved, but Esau have I hated," which is fitting considering the book is about Louise, who lives her life in the shadow of her "perfect" twin sister Caroline.

Here's the summary (and yes, the copy I read did have this awesome '80s cover):
"Jacob have I loved, but Esau have I hated . . ." With her grandmother's taunt, Louise knew that she, like the biblical Esau, was the despised elder twin. Caroline, her selfish younger sister, was the one everyone loved.

Growing up on a tiny Chesapeake Bay island in the early 1940s, angry Louise reveals how Caroline robbed her of everything: her hopes for schooling, her friends, her mother, even her name. While everyone pampered Caroline, Wheeze (her sister's name for her) began to learn the ways of the watermen and the secrets of the island, especially of old Captain Wallace, who had mysteriously returned after fifty years. The war unexpectedly gave this independent girl a chance to fulfill her childish dream to work as a watermen alongside her father. But the dream did not satisfy the woman she was becoming. Alone and unsure, Louise began to fight her way to a place where Caroline could not reach.

Renowned author Katherine Paterson here chooses a little-known area off the Maryland shore as her setting for a fresh telling of the ancient story of an elder twin's lost birthright.
Man, oh man, is there a lot of teen angst going on in this book. Louise might possibly be one of the angsty-ist characters I've met in a while. Part of her angst is just normal teenage "Woe is me, my life sucks" feelings, but a really bitter part of it comes from her dislike, and sometimes hatred, of her sister. And to be honest, I alternated between sympathizing with Louise and just wanting to shake her and tell her to get over it. Because, yes, her sister is the favorite and she is more talented and hence gets more opportunities, but at the same time, I couldn't hate Caroline for it like Louise does. I mean, Caroline seems like a nice person generally, and she does try to reach out to Louise. But I can see how having a "perfect" sister would make Louise feel resentful and like she is somehow less than Caroline. And it does seem like a lot of Louise's bitterness and resentment for her sister stems from her own low self-esteem--she doesn't see anything in herself that can compare to Caroline.

But I'm happy to report that after some painful teenage years (that involve her falling in love with a 70-year-old man--yeah, that part is awkward), Louise does finally get a grip and grow up. And it's really all because of her mom, who basically gives her a fantastic "If you're not happy here, leave" speech. Here's my favorite part of it:
"You could have done anything, been anything you wanted."

"But I am what I wanted to be," she said, letting her arms fall to her sides. "I chose. No one made me become what I am."

"That's sickening," I said.

"I'm not ashamed of what I have made of my life."

"Well, just don't try to make me like you are," I said.

She smiled. "I can promise you I won't."

"I'm not going to rot here like Grandma. I'm going to get off this island and do something." I waited for her to stop me, but she just stood there. "You're not going to stop me, either."

"I wouldn't stop you," she said. "I didn't stop Caroline, and I certainly won't stop you."

"Oh, Caroline. Caroline's different. Everything's always been for Caroline. Caroline the delicate, the gifted, the beautiful. Of course, we must all sacrifice our lives to give her greatness to the world!"

Did I see her flinch, ever so slightly? "What do you want us to do for you, Louise?"

"Let me go. Let me leave!"

"Of course you may leave. You never said you wanted to leave."

And, oh, my blessed, she was right. All my dreams of leaving, but beneath them I was afraid to go.
I love Louise's mom, especially in this scene. She deals with Louise's freak out so calmly and deftly, and I want to hug her for it.

Anyway, my feelings about this book are a little mixed, but overall they're positive. I feel like if this book had been written recently instead of 30 years ago, I might've liked it a little better, just because the author would've been free to write about some things a little more openly and frankly. But yeah, overall I liked the book. It made me think, that's for sure, and I can't say that about very many of the books I read.

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