Katherine Peterson’s “Jacob Have I Loved”, is the story of twin girls growing up on a small fishing island during WWII. Louise is the dependable plain girl, while her twin Caroline, seems to live a charmed life – pretty, musical and adored. They live with their mother and father, a homemaker and fisherman, respectively, and their grandmother on a sparsely populated and homogenous island. The grandmother, religiously fervent, becomes more and more unhinged as the book progresses, her dementia revealing itself in her blatant favoritism of Caroline as she quotes the Bible passage in which Isaac reveals that he does indeed love his son, Jacob, while hating Essau. Even the girls’ hardworking and faithful mother receives the full wrath of the grandmother, her mother-in-law, as she is compared to a whore and a harlot.
Louise enjoys the outdoor life, crabbing with her friend, which bring additional and much needed income to the family. It smarts when these funds are used to pay for Caroline’s extras, such as voice lessons, but Louise feels an obligation to support her gifted sister. At times, however, it becomes too much for her to bear, such as when Caroline carelessly uses Louise’s precious hand cream, purchased by Louise to counter the effects of her ruggedly outdoor life. Caroline also works her way in to the life of Louise’s only friends, and the Captain, a mysterious stranger who comes to live on the island. Life for Louise seems to be a never ending stream of hard work, for which she is not appreciated. The final straw is when the captain comes into some money and uses it to pay for Caroline to attend school off the island, when it is really Louise who is the far more promising student.
This book, while well written and interesting, was at times difficult to believe. Would so much unfairness be heaped on one twin while the other was so obviously and unfairly favored? How could two reasonable parents stand by and allow one child to receive every benefit and the other nothing at all? It felt to me a bit like when I watched the movie “Precious”. In that critically acclaimed film, the main character is a grossly overweight teenager, abused both emotionally and physically by her mother, impregnated not once but twice by her father, who in the end leaves her with two babies but also HIV. The story about a teenaged girl struggling to educate herself while discovering who she really while facing incredible obstacles is a good one Finally, both the book Jacob Have I Loved and the movie Precious, became too cruel and unfair to be believed. This book would be best used in a reading group for girls in grades 6-8. I would recommend reading the book in thirds, and coming together each week to discuss that section. The librarian would need to be sure to lead a discussion that might not be easy, as much of the book is just not fair to the older sister.
This thoughtful novel, set in Chesapeake Bay in the 1940s, deals with sibling rivalry and is rich in psychology, geography, and human nature. All her life, Louise has felt robbed of proper schooling, friends, mother, and even her name (Sara Louise into Wheeze), by her beautiful, talented, popular twin sister, Caroline. Her grandmother obviously favors Caroline and her sharp tongue only intensifies Louise’s self-doubt. It is the grandmother who cruelly whispers to Louise the verse from the Bible from which the title is taken, where God says, “Jacob have I loved, but Esau have I hated”. The analogy of Louise and Caroline to Esau and Jacob is clear. The family makes great sacrifice to encourage and develop Caroline’s considerable music talent, while pretty much ignoring Louise. Louise knows the ways of the isolated island in the Chesapeake Bay on which they live. She takes on a job traditionally reserved for males, that of crabbing with her friend Call, and soon realizes that she cannot work without finding her own identity.
Call and Louise make friends with Hiram Wallace, an old man who once left the island in disgrace. Even that relationship, however, is the brunt of Grandmother’s cruel jibes. For a long time it seems that every relationship, every task undertaken by Louise only brings her defeat and greater heartache. Caroline gets to go off to Julliard while Louise quits school to work with her father. It is Caroline who marries Call years later.
Louise finds inner resources to make her own life successful and the theme of self-reliance is a strong one here. World War II is used as almost a parallel war to the one going on within Louise. Readers might like to find those parallels within the plot or to look for signs of Louise’s talents and gifts throughout the book long before Louise recognizes them.
Hurst, Carol. Teaching K-8 Magazine [Review of the book [Jacob Have I Loved]. Retrieved from http://www.carolhurst.com/titles/jacobhavei/html
Sarah Louise Bradshaw is turning 13 the year World War II breaks out and changes life for people on her tiny island in the Chesapeake Bay. Theirs is a small fishing and crabbing community where everyone knows each other. Everyone also knows that Louise’s twin sister, Caroline, is the beautiful and favored one while Louise is plain and untalented. She finds solace on the water with her best friend Call, a homely and slow-witted boy, and with Captain Wallace, an old fisherman who returns to the island after many years away. Her cruel grandmother compares the girls to the Biblical brothers Jacob and Esau. She takes pleasure in taunting Louise by quoting from the Bible, “Jacob have I loved, but Esau have I hated,” only deepening Louise’s resentment for Caroline. When a severe storm destroys the Captain’s home and he moves in temporarily with her family, Louise is confused by her strong attraction to the old man. When he marries an invalid old woman on the island, Louise suffers her first hearbreak. As time passes, Caroline leaves the island to follow a singing career and Louise is left to hunt crab with her father and bear her grandmother’s constant criticism. Eventually she discovers the courage to leave home and make her own way, pursuing a life as a midwife and settling down in the Appalachian Mountains, far away from the island home that both nurtured and tormented her.
Sometimes Newbery Winners are unusual choices, and in my opinion this is one of them. There are long, detailed descriptions of the island and the tedious life of crab hunting. There are Louise’s incessant comparisons of her own insecurities to her sister’s beauty and merits. I realize the point is for the reader to patiently watch her finally come into her own, but she never quite gets there and it sounds a lot like whining. By the book’s end, I didn’t feel Louise was content with the woman she had become or see a resolution to the bitter relationship with her twin. However, I did sympathize for her and like most people, can understand the sibling rivalry. But I found her crush on the grandfatherly Captain rather bizarre–especially in a children’s book. There is also a strange bit at the end when Louise, now a midwife, delivers a woman’s twins and describes in detail nursing one of the babies at her own breast. The symbolism, I suppose, is this: validating her own existence and overcoming trials, but a younger audience might find that scene a little weird. (I know my daughter would.) Overall, I don’t recommend this to the 8-11 year old crowd. I would suggest a minimum age of middle school.
The Literate Mother [Review of the book [Jacob Have I Loved]. Retrieved from http://www.theliteratemother.org/jacob-have-i-loved-by-katherine-paterson