Stephen Wetta’s quirky debut novel is a natural for teens. Jack is such a fish-out-of-water in his small Virginia town, wishing his father and brother would stop living up to every bad thing ever said about them, yearning for the lovely Myra Joyner. Even the fact that the story is told by an adult Jack looking back on 1967 doesn’t work to distance it for modern teens. If it weren’t for references to long-haired hippies, Vietnam, and the Ben Franklin store, this story could as easily have been set today.
Jack’s eternal optimism that Myra will return his love is what gives his story life. Despite the feud between their families, despite the fact that she is entirely out of his league, Jack is convinced that he will overcome all obstacles.
I have to share my favorite thing about this book. Jack actually uses the expression “spit and image” — as in, “Her father was a model of square-jawed integrity, her mother the spit and image of Betty Crocker on the packages.” I don’t remember ever seeing that expression in print before. The language here is wonderful.
Adult/High School–Jack is going on 13 the summer his older brother Stan threatens to kill golden boy Gaylord Joyner. A smart, sensitive boy, Jack is nevertheless an outcast, unable to overcome the small-town prejudices against his family. The Witchers live in the house that is ruining the neighborhood, with “trash” painted as a prank across the front and the yard piled high with junk. Jack’s father is unemployed; his brother a pot-smoking hippie with a violent streak. Neglected by his kind but frazzled, over-worked mother and increasingly afraid of his erratic brother, Jack turns to Mr. Gladstein, the local jeweler, for advice on his love life. For Jack has fallen in love with classmate Myra Joyner, an ill-fated love, especially once Gaylord disappears and everyone suspects Stan of his murder. Jack honestly doesn’t know if his brother did it, but he does have a secret about his brother’s whereabouts the night Gaylord disappeared. Despite the fact that “Witchers ain’t snitchers,” that secret quickly becomes too much for him. Set in late 1960s rural Virginia, Jack tells his story from the safe distance of adulthood. While his educated, adult language could have come off as pretentious (“My father was irregular in his employment, although there were times when he made genuine efforts to thwart the luckless demons that attended him”), it is instead affecting, and at times downright funny. The adults and kids of the town act within the confines of the roles to which their prejudices relegate them. Teens, particularly those sensitive to socio-economic status, will understand completely.– Angela Carstensen, Convent of the Sacred Heart, New York City