BookBrowse Reviews The Mostly True Story of Jack by Kelly Barnhill

Summary |  Excerpt |  Reading Guide |  Reviews |  Beyond the book |  Readalikes |  Genres & Themes |  Author Bio

The Mostly True Story of Jack

by Kelly Barnhill

The Mostly True Story of Jack by Kelly Barnhill X
The Mostly True Story of Jack by Kelly Barnhill
  • Critics' Opinion:

    Readers' Opinion:

     Not Yet Rated
  • First Published:
    Aug 2011, 336 pages
    Sep 2012, 352 pages

  • Rate this book

Book Reviewed by:
Tamara Smith

Buy This Book

About this Book



A creepy tale filled with magic and friendship about finding a place to belong, ages 9+

The Mostly True Story of Jack is downright creepy. Something very evil is lurking just beneath the surface in the small town of Hazelwood, Iowa. Literally beneath the surface - under the cornfields, under the local school, under the forest, and under the houses where Hazelwood's residents try to live normal lives. And this evil thing has come up out of the landscape before. Fourteen-year-old Frankie, and his twin sister Wendy, know this. Frankie was abducted six years earlier and came home scarred and silent. No one knows exactly what happened or why. But Frankie, Wendy, and their friend, Anders, have a strong sense that it was this sinister under-the-ground thing that is to blame.

Jack has been sent to live with his eccentric uncle and aunt in this strange and eerie town. He has spent most of his childhood feeling invisible and alone, but when he gets to Hazelwood, everyone - and everything - takes notice. Why is Jack such a focus of attention? And why does Jack feel so connected to this place that he does not know? This is where The Mostly True Story of Jack begins.

Kelly Barnhill does a brilliant job of creating just the right details to ground the reader in this spine-tingling world. Anders goes on what at first feels like a typical walk. "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." Creepy. And when Jack almost gets run down by a car and falls, he realizes he is being held against his will. "His glasses itched terribly under his nose, but when he tried to adjust them, he realized that he couldn't move his right arm. Or his left. Tendrils of grass and ivy slithered along his side. They twined around his ankles and wrists and held him tight." Deftly using these kinds of sensory and landscape-related details, Kelly Barnhill is able to not only orient the readers, but also entice them along as the story slowly unfolds.

The Mostly True Story of Jack is funny too. Kelly Barnhill has a knack for quirky asides. For example - patriarch Mr. Avery in a dramatic moment: "A thought popped - unbidden - into his head: And this is why I have always, always hated cats." And Frankie, while listening to his mother yell at his sister: "His mother, he knew, was about to launch into a lecture that Wendy liked to call 'The Value of Good Sense,' or 'How Not to Be a Pain in Your Mother's Rear End.' He figured he had at least forty-five minutes - maybe more." This humor creates resting places in the text, moments for the reader to relax and laugh, even as the story's haunting tension escalates. This is smart, fluid writing at its best.

Ultimately this story is about relationships - the true meanings of friendship and family - and the sacrifices people make in the name of love and connection. And Kelly Barnhill widens the definition of these relationships and the way they all come together to create community - friends and family, yes, but also animals, and the landscape. The Almost True Story of Jack is spooky, funny and, finally, heartwarming in its own amazing and strange way. It is a suspenseful read, great for anyone who wants a fast-paced, unusual mystery to solve.

Recommended for ages 9+

Reviewed by Tamara Smith

This review was originally published in October 2011, and has been updated for the September 2012 paperback release. Click here to go to this issue.

This review is available to non-members for a limited time. For full access, become a member today.
Membership Advantages
  • Reviews
  • "Beyond the Book" backstories
  • Free books to read and review (US only)
  • Find books by time period, setting & theme
  • Read-alike suggestions by book and author
  • Book club discussions
  • and much more!
  • Just $10 for 3 months or $35 for a year
  • More about membership!

Editor's Choice

  • Book Jacket: Speak No Evil
    Speak No Evil
    by Uzodinma Iweala
    Young Nigerian American writer Uzodinma Iweala is fast becoming known as a powerful chronicler of ...
  • Book Jacket: Winter
    by Ali Smith
    "God was dead; to begin with." This first sentence of Winter perfectly sets up the dreamy journey ...
  • Book Jacket: A Land of Permanent Goodbyes
    A Land of Permanent Goodbyes
    by Atia Abawi

    When you're a refugee, everyone has lost, at least for the time being... And the journey ...

  • Book Jacket: Auntie Poldi and the Sicilian Lions
    Auntie Poldi and the Sicilian Lions
    by Mario Giordano
    Munich matron and self-described worldly sophisticate, Isolde Oberreiter, has decided to retire to a...

First Impressions

  • Book Jacket

    Anatomy of a Miracle
    by Jonathan Miles

    A stunning novel that offers an exploration of faith, science and the meaning of life.
    Reader Reviews

Win this book!
Win The Balcony

The Balcony
by Jane Delury

A century-spanning novel-in-stories of a French village brimming with compassion, natural beauty, and unmistakable humanity.


Word Play

Solve this clue:

One N U G

and be entered to win..

Books that     

 & enlighten

Visitors can view some of BookBrowse for free. Full access is for members only.

Join Today!

Your guide toexceptional          books

BookBrowse seeks out and recommends books that we believe to be best in class. Books that will whisk you to faraway places and times, that will expand your mind and challenge you -- the kinds of books you just can't wait to tell your friends about.