This book starts out feeling like a cross between the movies “Stepford Wives” and “Pleasantville”. Eleven-year-old twin sisters Elodee and Naomi leave their hometown of Jupiter, and move with their parents to Eventown. There are no phones, televisions, or computers. They spend the first few days thinking they’re in paradise – no stress or conflict or unpleasantness. Everyone agrees with everyone else, acts the same, and is polite to a tee. The kids all love school! Something is definitely wrong in this town.
Alarm bells go off in Elodee’s mind when she visits the library and discovers that every book is blank. And what’s up with those mandatory interviews at the Welcoming Center? Her sister Naomi seems different after her interview. Elodee completes only half of her interview, at which time she figures out what is going on in Eventown.
Those of you who have read through the Old Testament part of the Bible will probably remember the story of Jacob and Esau, the twin brothers who spent their lives competing with each other for the affections of their parents and the family inheritance. This book takes that theme, and puts it into modern times.
On a tiny island in the Chesapeake Bay lived a family with twin daughters: Louise (nicknamed Wheeze) and Caroline. Caroline was delicate, beautiful, musically inclined, socially graceful, and loved by everyone in the community. She barely survived birth, and was a sickly child whom everyone fawned over. Wheeze, on the other hand, was robust and healthy at birth. She was plain, sturdy, and more solitary. She and her only island friend, a boy named Call, spent their time on a fishing boat catching crabs. Because she was strong and self-sufficient, Wheeze’s parents basically ignored her and focused most of their attention on Caroline. The sibling rivalry continued for many years, until Wheeze found a way to step out of her sister’s shadow and develop a meaningful life of her own.
The character of Louise is well-developed, and easy to to feel sympathy for. The author did a great job of surrounding her with interesting supporting characters, like her friend Call, her insane grandmother (who lives with them), and the mysterious Captain Wallace who returns to the island after being away for decades. The island setting added a lot to the story as well, as the inhabitants battle economic hardship, isolation, and weather disasters.
This book won the Newbery Medal award the year after it was published, and it surely deserved to win it. “Jacob Have I Loved” is a thought-provoking novel that can be enjoyed by young people and adults alike.