According to the publicity materials accompanying his auspicious debut, Stephen Wetta “grew up in the ’60s and ’70s, drank, used drugs, got in financial trouble, and spent far too much time reading and writing.” After reading If Jack’s in Love, you’ll be very glad Wetta lived to tell the tale.

In El Dorado Hills, Virginia, in the late 1960s, the Witchers are the family neighbors whisper about. Jack’s father can’t keep a job and picks a fight every chance he gets, older brother Stan is a pot-smoking, hippie loser with a taste for violence and his sweet mother is completely overpowered by the men in her life. Jack seems thoughtful and intelligent, but his classmates know he can’t be that smart—he’s a Witcher and that means he’s hopeless.

Myra Joyner, one of Jack’s classmates, is the only girl who sees the good in him, and she quickly becomes the subject of his adolescent obsession. With the help of Mr. Gladstein, an eccentric but well-meaning jewelry store owner, Jack begins to woo Myra, thinking—just for a minute—that his luck might be about to change. But then Myra’s older brother goes missing, and Jack’s brother Stan is the prime suspect. And just like that, Jack’s relationships with Myra, his family and their entire community are forever altered.

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.

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