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Top 100 Children’s Novels #43: Jacob Have I Loved by Katherine Paterson

#43 Jacob Have I Loved by Katherine Paterson (1980)
47 points

I adored this one as a teenager; it spoke profoundly to me. I read it as an adult, and it still spoke profoundly to me. I’ve found that’s rare, since my adult self has different sensibilities than my teenage self, and because it’s rare, I cherish it all the more. – Melissa Fox

Such strong characters are here–those you love, those you hate, those you pity, and those you just want to smack a good one straight across the back o’ the head (i.e., Call). Wheeze is so incredibly real, so honest, and, amazingly enough, so is Caroline. Even when you hate her you don’t hate her. I cannot recommend this one highly enough. Read it. – Kristi Hazelrigg

Sing it, sister! – Susan Van Metre

And so we meet a book that makes the MOST impressive leap onto our list.  I could understand Okay for Now or Wonder not making the poll last time.  They hadn’t been published yet!  But Jacob Have I Loved isn’t exactly a spring chicken.  Yet here we are talking about it and somehow it has managed to leap 43 spots up and onto this list.  Fascinating!

The plot from Wikipedia reads, “The novel follows the story of the Bradshaws, a family who depends on the father, Truitt Bradshaw, and his crabbing/fishing business on his boat, the Portia Sue. Truitt’s two daughters, Sara Louise and Caroline, are twins, and Caroline has always been the favorite. She is prettier and more talented, and better at receiving more attention not only from their parents but also from others in the community.  The book traces Louise’s attempts to free herself from Caroline’s shadow, even as she grows into adulthood.”

It won the 1981 Newbery Medal beating out The Fledgling by Jane Langton and A Ring of Endless Light by Madeleine L’Engle.  I’d say that this was the right choice, particularly since neither of those other two books made our list.

Of course I confess that my favorite recap came from Jezebel a couple years ago.  She just synthesizes what is enjoyable for folks about the novel.  Here’s a taste:

“What’s astonishing about this book is how unflinching Paterson is about the pain Louise suffers by her second-best status without somehow devolving into V.C. Andrews territory (NOT that there’s anything wrong with that, OBVS) or making Louise’s frustration seem like anything but the unattractive, festering blister that it is. Yes, Louise’s fundamental rage ‘n pain is something that could probably be handled through a triple dose of CBT, Paxil and a round of family therapy nowadays. But the few minutes before Caroline exited the womb after her are, as Louise sees it, ‘the only time in my life I was ever the center of anyone’s attention.’ Louise is both the main proponent and victim of this belief, but it will take her until adulthood to realize that.”

I’ll grant the artist of that first book jacket this much.  You simply cannot look at that cover and not despise the glowing blond girl there.  She’s despicable.  I can’t even tell you why, she just is.

And there was a film, though you will be relieved to hear that I could not find a clip of it anywhere.  Phew!

About Elizabeth Bird

Elizabeth Bird is currently the Collection Development Manager of the Evanston Public Library system and a former Materials Specialist for New York Public Library. She has served on Newbery, written for Horn Book, and has done other lovely little things that she'd love to tell you about but that she's sure you'd find more interesting to hear of in person. Her opinions are her own and do not reflect those of EPL, SLJ, or any of the other acronyms you might be able to name. Follow her on Twitter: @fuseeight.


  1. I was sure this had made the list the first time. So it appears, all Mrs. Patterson’s Newberys will made it this time around.

    When I took K.T. Horning’s Newbery class, there was some discussion that this was very much a YA book and might not have been considered had the Printz been around.

    It’s been a long time since I’ve read it. Looking forward to the reread.

  2. I hated this book. HATED it. I never really cared for any of Patterson’s books, but this one was the worst. Even now, I can’t tell why it elicited such a strong visceral response in me, but it’s one I’ll never be able to read again. Remarkable writing, though, to be able to pull such strong responses from people, whether negative or positive.