Jacob Have I Loved

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by Paterson, Katherine. (HarperCollins, 1990 ISBN 0 06 440368 8) Novel. 256 pages. Grades 5+.
This book was reviewed by Carol Otis Hurst in Teaching K-8 Magazine.
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Review

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This thoughtful novel, set in Chesapeake Bay in the 1940s, deals with sibling rivalry and is rich in psychology, geography, and human nature. All her life, Louise has felt robbed of proper schooling, friends, mother, and even her name (Sara Louise into Wheeze), by her beautiful, talented, popular twin sister, Caroline. Her grandmother obviously favors Caroline and her sharp tongue only intensifies Louise's self-doubt. It is the grandmother who cruelly whispers to Louise the verse from the Bible from which the title is taken, where God says, "Jacob have I loved, but Esau have I hated". The analogy of Louise and Caroline to Esau and Jacob is clear. The family makes great sacrifice to encourage and develop Caroline's considerable music talent, while pretty much ignoring Louise. Louise knows the ways of the isolated island in the Chesapeake Bay on which they live. She takes on a job traditionally reserved for males, that of crabbing with her friend Call, and soon realizes that she cannot work without finding her own identity.

Call and Louise make friends with Hiram Wallace, an old man who once left the island in disgrace. Even that relationship, however, is the brunt of Grandmother's cruel jibes. For a long time it seems that every relationship, every task undertaken by Louise only brings her defeat and greater heartache. Caroline gets to go off to Julliard while Louise quits school to work with her father. It is Caroline who marries Call years later.

Louise finds inner resources to make her own life successful and the theme of self-reliance is a strong one here. World War II is used as almost a parallel war to the one going on within Louise. Readers might like to find those parallels within the plot or to look for signs of Louise's talents and gifts throughout the book long before Louise recognizes them.

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