30 September 2011

Imprint Friday: If Jack's in Love by Stephen Wetta

Welcome to Imprint Friday and today's featured imprint: Amy Einhorn Books. Stop by each week to be introduced to a must-read title from one of my favorite imprints. I know you'll be adding many of these books to your wish list.

Just released yesterday, Stephen Wetta's debut, If Jack's in Love, transports us to rural Virginia. It's 1967, and twelve-year-old Jack Witcher and America are on the threshold of change.

Here's the publisher's summary:

It's 1967. Jack Witcher is a twelve-year-old boy genius living in a Virginia suburb at an address the entire neighborhood avoids. Jack's father has lost his job--again--and he's starting fights with other fathers. Jack's mother, sweet but painfully ugly, works as a cashier at a local market. Jack's older brother is a long-haired, pot-smoking hippie.

If all of that isn't bad enough, Jack's brother suddenly becomes the main suspect in the disappearance of the town's golden boy. And to make matters even worse, Jack is in love with the missing boy's sister, Myra. Mr. Gladstein, the town jeweler and solitary Jew, is Jack's only friend; together, they scheme to win Jack Myra's love. But to do that, Jack must overcome the prejudices, both the town's and his own, about himself and his family.
To be honest, I was unsure about sharing the publisher's summary for this week's Imprint Friday. But then I thought about it. Readers of If Jack's in Love are going to pick up on different aspects of the story and have different reactions, making the novel a fabulous book club choice. So what was my hesitation? Mostly, it's the description of Jack's brother, Stan. Although Stan's hair is longer than most in town and he's discovered pot, he is really isn't "a long-haired, pot-smoking hippie." He's a lot of things--most of it bad--but he's generally interested in avoiding the draft, spending time with the leggy girl down the street, and throwing his weight around. It's just a bit too early for small-town kids to be hippies, and he definitely missed the boat for the Summer of Love. Fortunately, despite the summary, Wetta got it right.

Jack is a good boy from a no-good family and has lived under the cloud of being a Witcher all his life. The summer he turns thirteen is pivotal, and not just because he is about start junior high and leave his childhood behind. It's the summer Jack sees his family and his community for what they are and must decide where he wants to stand in relationship to others.

If you remember the 60s (and I'm just a few months younger than Jack), you'll likely key in to the subtle references to the politics and music of the era. You'll also know exactly what Jack means when he says:
Earlier Myra and I met where we always met, in the woods. The woods! There was something daring, even salacious, about the words. Back then, before childhood had grown menaced by television reports, the woods were where kids went to drink and smoke and cop feels. One said "the woods" with a knowing smile. The words could make a thirteen-year-old's heart pump. (1)
Younger readers will wonder if some parts of the novel are realistic, but things were different before the Internet, before in-your-face mass-media reporting, and when small-town matters stayed that way. But these are the makings of a great discussion.

Other themes are family loyalty, prejudice (of all sorts), and young love. If I were leading a book club discussion, I would talk about the juxtaposition of the changes in Jack's life and the greater cultural and political changes occurring in American and throughout the world in 1967.

Here are some other opinions
  • The starred Publishers Weekly review ends: "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."
  • Stacy Alesi (The BookBitch), concludes: "this is Jack's story, and despite all that is going on around him, this is a lovely fairytale, if you will, about a boy who rises up beyond his beginnings. An excellent read, especially for book groups."
  • Abby Plesser, writing for BookPage says the novel 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."
If Jack's in Love was an Indie Next pick for October 2011. To learn more about Stephen Wetta, visit his website and/or follow him on Twitter.

Amy Einhorn Books is a featured imprint on Beth Fish Reads. For more information about the imprint, please read Amy Einhorn's open letter posted here on January 25, 2010, or click the Amy Einhorn tab below my banner photo. To join the Amy Einhorn Books Reading Challenge, click the link.

If Jack's in Love at an Indie

Published by Putnam / Amy Einhorn Books, October 2011
ISBN-13: 9780399157523


Jenn's Bookshelves 9/30/11, 6:14 AM  

Ah yes! Stan, the pot-smoking hippie. Yes, I agree with you on the description of this character...not really a true description, but on another hand, not exactly false either.

Very good point of picking up on the things going on in society at the time...that's one thing I really didn't pick up on!

Thanks for the review! You allowed me to see a completely different aspect/view of this book!

bookspersonally 9/30/11, 6:45 AM  

Sounds like an intriguing read & neat to learn about Amy Einhorn books. Enjoyed the quote about the woods- I'm a seventies kid, but there is such a difference between then and now and how and the kinds of freedom to explore available to kids nowadays, so the quote about the woods really resonates.

bermudaonion 9/30/11, 8:10 AM  

I actually lived in Virginia in 1967, so I'm really excited about this book. I'm not sure I can wait for January book club to read it.

Unknown 9/30/11, 8:36 AM  

I am a child of the 60's and yes times were very different. I often wish for those less up to the minute times. The "woods" ah yes such a vivid memory I have of those times.
Thanks for a wonderful review, I think I might have to add this one.

Michelle 9/30/11, 9:04 AM  

This one sounds great for the YA crowd! I'm going to have to add it to my wishlist.

Beth Hoffman 9/30/11, 9:24 AM  

I've heard terrific things about this book and have already added it to my list!

Barbara 9/30/11, 9:47 AM  

Sounds like this would spark some interesting conversations in a book club. Lots of meat to chew on.

I do love your header photo from Belgium. It is so perfectly set up and the colors are vivid.

Zibilee 9/30/11, 9:47 AM  

I received this book for review knowing very little about it. I am excited now hearing that it's an Amy Einhorn book, as books from this imprint have always been favorites of mine. I think you make a great point about Stan and the way he is described as being a pot-head. I am glad that even though the publisher's summary didn't get right, that Wetta did, and that the result felt organic and well executed. Great post today. I can't wait to get to this one!

Anonymous,  9/30/11, 10:48 AM  

I love Amy Einhorn! This one sounds interesting.

Sandy Nawrot 9/30/11, 12:58 PM  

At this point I would accept an Amy Einhorn book without even knowing what it is about. They are always good books. I was more a kid of the 70's but was born in the 60's in a small town, so I get all of this. Can't wait to read it and I'm glad we picked it for book club! (Did we scrap Little Princes and When She Woke?)

Julie P. 9/30/11, 4:26 PM  

I'm with Sandy on this. Amy Einhorn imprint is one of the best.

Vasilly 9/30/11, 5:49 PM  

I just added this to my tbr list! Great spotlight.

Anonymous,  10/1/11, 12:57 AM  

I'm just happy he wasn't in love with Jill.

Cursillo86 10/3/11, 9:10 AM  

I actually am the author's older brother. With regard to Stan, I agree with you that he was not a hippie. His long hair would just be more "in your face" to the snobs of the neighborhood, and the pot smoking and sex just more self indulgence, which the author shows wonderfully. Stan is really creepy because he can fool people for a while, like Anya. Just for the record, I am nothing like the powerful figure which Stephen Wetta created, and the older brother Stan will leave a lasting impact on all his readers.

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