Review: The Mostly True Story of Jack by Kelly Barnhill

Genre: Paranormal Age Level: Middle Grade Series: N/A
Genre: Paranormal
Age Level: Middle Grade
Series: N/A

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, three astonishing things happen: First, he makes friends — not imaginary friends but actual friends. Second, he is beaten up by the town bully; the bullies at home always ignored him. Third, 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, well, invisible.

The Mostly True Story of Jack is an eerie tale of magic, friendship, and sacrifice. It’s about things broken and things put back together. Above all, it’s about finding a place to belong.


“There is
no utter truth or
utter falsehood in this
world. There is only mostly.
Which part of the mostly
you choose to accept,
well, that much is
up to you.”

I would not have picked this up had I not enjoyed Barnhill’s Iron Hearted Violet. Even still, I was super hesitant to pick it up because the summary really didn’t appeal to me. It made it sound like it was just a story about a boy finding his place in the world with a touch of magic on the side. Paging through the novel seemed to confirm this belief. And yet, when I started reading, it began to grow on me to the point where I was unable to put it down. Don’t trust summaries!

The best part of the book is hinted at in the title. It’s called The Mostly True Story of Jack for a reason. The novel is a story and Barnhill doesn’t let you forget that. It is a story and how much of it is true is up to you – what is important is the lessons you learn from it. Jack doesn’t believe in fairy tales, only in non-fiction book, but begins to learn that there may be more truth to the fairy tales, that there is an aspect of the world requiring belief in more than just science. Again, whether you wish to take this literally or not is up to you. But this novel is definitely about the power of stories and that there is no one definitive truth.

I really don’t want to spoil the central plot/mystery because you are left to piece things together for yourself. Even at the end, nothing is really confirmed or denied, you are required to decide for yourself. What I will say, is that it is unusual; a blend of familiar stories twisted together in a way that is fresh and original. Buildings that vanish only to reappear, living houses, lost souls and guard cats are just a few of the many supernatural things you will encounter.

I found Jack to be an interesting character in that he wasn’t exceptionally interesting or overly sympathetic, just a normal kid leading an extraordinary life. The other characters were wonderful as well; an eclectic mix of people. Mr. Perkins was a favorite because he added a touch of comedy to the plot. And Wendy for being tough and stubborn.

The ending. Well. Certainly not how I’d expect a middle grade novel to end. It is almost feels unresolved even though the central plot comes to a conclusion because it ends on a melancholy note. There is no perfect place to belong, no perfect family, and love is painful are kind of the themes of epilogue. Again not typical MG stuff, and it is impressive that Barnhill managed to pull it off. I can’t wait to read her next novel, The Witch’s Boy.

A quirky middle grade paranormal about stories and family. Recommended.

Have you read this book? What did you think? I’d love to hear from you!


I love hearing from you and will always reply!

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