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: 279,542
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. The Mostly True Story of Jack is her debut children's book. 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.
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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The Mostly True Story of Jack 4.2 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 17 reviews.
Anne52AG More than 1 year ago
I am an adult reader who is reading this book to screen it for an 11 year old reader. I bought it on my Nook, and I have to say that I am engrossed in the story and don't want to put it down. I will buy it for my great niece for sure!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Great read for adults AND kids - or better yet - as a family read-aloud. Recommend for older elementary/middle school ages.
Linda Walters More than 1 year ago
I got this book from my friend telling me to reaf it and say if itts worth reading. I read it in a night and loved it. I higly reccomed this book
ref27 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Reminiscent of Greenwitch, etc with magic deriving from the natural power inherent in the earth and a focus on the appropriate balance of good and evil. Scrappy characters, slightly underdeveloped villians, appealingly descriptive language.
herdingcats on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This story is truly captivating. It is suspenseful and well written and unique. It is the story of Jack, who has been ignored and felt invisible for all of his life, until his parents split up and he is sent to live with his aunt and uncle in Iowa. Suddenly, people notice him. A lot. He makes his first friends and learns that magic exists and he is a part of it. The setting and characters are richly and well developed and the story draws you into it just as the children are drawn in as well. We follow Jack and Wendy and Frankie and Anders in this town where magic erupts in certain places, such as that of the old schoolhouse where many children disappeared in the past and Jack's Aunt and Uncle's house which warms to Jack's touch and where vines grow into his bedroom. They must stop Mr. Avery, who really is not a bad person, he only wants to save his own son. In the end, it is all up to Jack. I really enjoyed the uniqueness of this story. So many fantasies have the same plot line. This one is pleasantly different.
skraftdesigns on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Fiction books involving magic are so popular with kids now, I better just get used to it if I want to give excellent service when recommending good books. When I finished this book I just thought 'what the freak.' But many people liked the book and I am apparently missing something. Jack is brought to his aunt and uncle's house in Iowa while his parents are divorcing. He misses his mom and San Francisco very much- his aunt and uncle are weird, as is this whole small town if Iowa. Really indescribably weird. He makes some friends, who seem to know more about the goings on, and even about Jack himself. There is a parrot and cats, and a strange magic book that Jack starts reading. There is a scary, collapsing and reappearing schoolhouse and a couple of rich bad guys who own the town and the town cops, who have an unhealthy interest in Jack. The story peaks with bulldozers poised at Jack's uncle's strange house. There is often something that saves it for me, this magic element in the current crop of children's books. In this case it was the reaction of the children in the story, especially Jack. He seems down to earth, calling the whole weirdness crazy, and I liked him for it. His aunt and uncle are crazy. This whole town is crazy. Until he discovers himself to be magic then blah blah blah this story can end now. I tried! It is well written with well realized characters, and I'm sure kids will like it.
cay250 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Jack has lived much of his life feeling invisible, beneath the notice of bullies, friends or even his family. Yet when his parents divorce and he¿s sent to live with his aunt and uncle in Hazelwood, Iowa, Jack is shocked to discover that everyone in the town notices him. What¿s more, some of them seem to want to kill him. As he befriends some of the local kids, Jack reluctantly looks into the town¿s past and unravels the mystery behind why children have been disappearing there for decades and what his connection may be. I'm sure if kids will have the patience to stick with this book until it starts to make sense. There are very sophisticated mythology concerning "mother earth" and the duality of "good" and "evil" within the same person
AmyLovsBooks on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Jack has been invisible almost all his life, even in the eyes of his family. after his parents divorce he was sent to Hazelwood, Iowa, to live with his aunt and uncle. all h expected was boredom but found friendship instead. Mr. Avery, the richest man in town seems to plotting his death. The question is why? Why is everyone interested in him all of a sudden?I enjoyed the book. I found it to be a story, a good one at that. But not one that is made much of an impact. Nevertheless, a good read.
delphica on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
My problem right out of the gate is that this a genre I have never been much fond of to begin with. I've never bought into the entire Midwestern town being fueled by magic ... maybe I'm too pragmatic, but it starts raising a whole lot of TQM flags for me, a entire town, that's a lot of infrastructure to deal with.And there's too much magic in this book for my taste. I guess this is ... Nearly every plot turn is driven by magic. Why did that happen? Oh, magic! I always wonder what the point of the book is (it's sort of like how I feel about basketball - everything always happens in the last five minutes of the game, what's the point of playing the first part of the game then, just play five minute games) when the courage or intelligence or kindness (or lack of) of the characters takes such a significant back seat to the magic. You could cut right to the end, where it all gets resolved by ... magic! And I don't think I'm the sharpest knife in the drawer by any means, but I had a challenging time keeping up with the "rules" of how this magic was supposed to work. I couldn't keep the magical players or the timeline straight in my head, and I had to go back and carefully read several of the descriptions related to this in order to suss everything out. Finally, what kind of nonsense is it to publish a book with a title so similar to a recent Newbery Honor book (The Mostly True Adventures of Homer P. Figg)? Was the runner up choice From the Mixed Up Files of Mr. Horace Avery?I am giving it a generous three stars because I know that I am never going to like this style of book but I respect the possibility that others might not be as biased to start with.
ALelliott on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Jack has always felt invisible. Which is a normal way for a kid to feel sometimes, but what if your own mom forgets who you are? When Jack is sent away from San Francisco to live with his kooky aunt and uncle in Iowa while his parents undergo a divorce, he is nervous and angry. After all, what is there for a kid to do in a small town in Iowa?But what Jack doesn't know is that this town has things happening below the surface, growing, boiling, slithering, things that could threaten everything he learns to care for. A mysterious book and some oddball friends are the only things there to point Jack in the right direction and find out what his (mostly) true story is.Kelly Barnhill does a great job of creating an ominous feeling in this novel. While Jack is a likable character, and you will root for him, you will also find yourself questioning whether or not he is everything he believes himself to be. If you like mystery stories, or off-kilter fantasy, this is a great book to check out!
Tori-Maxwell More than 1 year 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. In The Mostly True Story of Jack, a fantasy and mystery mixed book, there is a boy named Jack. He isn't that remarkable, in fact, no one notices him, even his family sometimes. Yet that changes when he goes to live with his Aunt Mabel and Uncle Clive for the summer. There he is noticed by everyone, including a bully, two kids who become his friend, and the richest man in town who's out to kill him. Kelly Barnhill shows you with flashbacks and different character point of views a unique story about Jack's past that he didn't know about and how he is intertwined with others in the town. Those flashbacks and different character point of views tell you about a boy with a lost past, a girl with a once missing brother who won't share his experience, and the father willing to kill Jack to save his son. All of this is on top of mysterious vines seeming to follow him wherever he goes, that actually give a clue to his past. This is by far one of my favorite books and I definitely recommend it. It's great because it has such a unique story that I had never read before and kept me on the edge of my seat wanting more. As one mystery is presented or solved another one is introduced and you see how they all relate and the consequences of the characters actions. Each character is relatable to in some way and their actions and sacrifices they make, make the book even better. This book sucked me into its world and made me feel like another character. At certain points I would smile and other points made me want to cry, I learned so many things from this book about how life can work in mysterious ways and that life isn't always fair. In this Newbery Award wining book, that is great for all age groups, there is a boy with a mysterious past, a girls brother who was once missing and now won't talk, and a man trying to save his son, no matter the consequences. All of this connected by past events and one thing leading to another. The vines that are connected to Jack, connected to his past, only give a faint inkling of how interesting and unique this book is. This is a wonderful book and I strongly suggest you read it if you're in the mood for a good read.
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I was not sure where this book was going when I started reading it. Glad I stuck with it. I am sure mykids will enjoy reading this story.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This is a great book but it is kind of a dull but is a good book to read to family