On the bottom of the social ladder, daily life is riven with scorn, and adolescent Jack Witcher, the youngest son of an unemployed father and beleaguered mother, knows it well. Wetta's debut portrays the fictional El Dorado Hills in Virginia during the late 1960s with Southern gothic flair. The tale revolves around a popular boy going missing and suspicion falling on Jack's violent, druggy brother, which affects Jack's love life, as he's fallen for the missing boy's sister, and divides a family's loyalties between those willing to lie and abet and those who cannot. On a deeper level, the plot reveals class issues and their exacerbation by the threat of violence. Deftly, Wetta illuminates the gulf between the innocence of age 12 and the realizations that arise at 13, allowing Jack to evolve as he navigates among misfit characters, including a Jewish jeweler, a black handyman, a family transplanted from Dallas, Tex., and his own brother and "hillbilly" father. At turns unsparing, tender, and disturbing when it comes to rivalry and the nuances of love versus obligation, this is no typical bildungsroman. That Jack emerges from a crucible determined never to look back is unsurprising; it is the path leading him to this conclusion that is intelligently, wonderfully conceived. (Oct.)
Terrific…you should read this wonderfully written marvel of a book: a work both gripping and hilarious, joyous and heartbreakingly bittersweet.” —The Wall Street Journal
“It took Stephen Wetta fifty-five years to write his promising first novel … I only hope Mr. Wetta writes a little faster next time so I’ll be around to say I told you so.” —Pete Dexter
“This is a lovely, passionate, and compelling … a book you won’t want to put down.” —Winston Groom, author of Forrest Gump
“At turns unsparing, tender, and disturbing….intelligently, wonderfully conceived.” —Publisher’s Weekly, starred review
“Heartfelt, heartbreaking, suspenseful, and riveting… The novel, full of beautifully realized characters and predicaments, gets everything exactly right.” —Timothy Schaffert, award-winning author of The Coffins of Little Hope
“I loved this novel! Like To Kill a Mockingbird, Whistling in the Dark… Jack Witcher will charm you, break your heart . . . surprise you on nearly every page … [and] stay with you long after the final satisfying page.” —Katrina Kittle, author of The Blessings of the Animals
"A powerful story … Wetta captures with great charm and grit the joys and aches of a first love complicated by social boundaries and familial expectations…. a fast-moving tale.” —Lee Martin, author of The Bright Forever and Break the Skin
"If Jack's in Love is a moving portrait of a specific time, family and town, but also a universal story of growing up and coming to terms with the people-and places-that raise us, told with all the humor, truth and urgency of its teenage hero. It may have taken the first half of his life to write, but Wetta's touching novel was well worth the wait."
"...[Y]ou should read this wonderfully written marvel of a book: a work both gripping and hilarious, joyous and heartbreakingly bittersweet."
". . . terrific . . . raw and complicated . . . keeps us gripped until the end."
First-time novelist Wetta stays on well-trod territory here: a boy must navigate the complex loyalties and curious alliances among both adults and his cruel peers. The 12-year-old narrator, Jack Witcher, is caught between the class-related anger of his brother and father and his love for his wealthy classmate Myra. Things become more complicated when Jack's brother is identified as the main suspect in the disappearance of Myra's brother. Reminiscent of Stephen King's novella The Body but lacking its wistful charm, this debut reads more like a generic script for the perennial film about late-1960s small-town prejudices. Despite its considerable length, the novel offers only canned emotions, and the reader comes away with little feel for the characters or even the story's consequences. Female characters get particularly short treatment, summed up by the creepy advice of a shop owner to the young hero about the importance of "blossoming young tits." VERDICT While Wetta offers an occasional memorable line ("Families live on loyalty more than love"), the book is simply not very interesting. [See Prepub Alert, 4/11/11.]—Travis Fristoe, Alachua Cty. Lib. Dist., FL
Caught between love and loyalty, young Jack cannot seem to make a decision that doesn't feel wrong.
In Wetta's debut novel, Jack is a Witcher, son of a sometime mechanic, sometime unemployed hillbilly father and a poor-but-respectable mother. The Witchers are trash, publicly labeled as such. Their house, with a maybe-useful commode in the mostly dirt yard, scars El Dorado Hills, a 1967 Virginia suburb where good folks like the Coghills, Joyners and Kellners worry about Vietnam and integration and wish the Witchers elsewhere. But soon-to-be-13 Jack loves Myra Joyner, and that's a problem. It happens too that Jack's older brother, long-haired, pot-smoking Stanley, hates Myra's bother, Duke University–bound Gaylord Joyner, recent usurper of good girl Courtney Blankenship's affections. Wetta's narrative weaves Jack's pursuit of Myra around Stan's tendency to bloody the nose of anyone who offers a slight, real or imagined, a trait inherited from Witcher senior. Jack's ally in his quest is another outsider, Moses Gladstein, a Jewish jeweler from New Jersey. Myra likes Jack, primarily because Jack is the school's smartest kid, and Stan has found a new love in Anya, hippie daughter of the Taylors, rich folk new in the neighborhood. The characters are realistic, especially the Witchers, even Stan, whose thin-skinned "Don't tread on me" attitude ranges beyond the borders of sanity. Witcher-snobs are drawn with less intensity, although the white-bread image of a newly enrolled Klansman named Pudding hits the mark. Gaylord goes missing, Stan is accused and the Witchers are shunned and harassed. Jack puzzles through the story, but the dichotomy between his intellectual superiority and pubescent emotional behavior sometimes seems off-kilter. Jack understands that "Families live on loyalty more than love..." It's the costs of loyalty that causes him pain.
In the vein ofTo Kill a Mockingbird,but about class rather than race, and lacking a bit of its righteous moral clarity.