Fabulous Fiction Firsts #291

It is only a slight exaggeration to say that Stephen Wetta's debut novel If Jack's in Love * took a lifetime to write (see bio), and lucky for us, it's finally in print.

It's 1967. School is out but Jack Witcher, our 12 year-old boy genius, is not having a good summer. Jack is in love with Myra, and knows she is out of his league. In fact, the Witchers are despised as white trash in their Virginia neighborhood.

When the town's golden boy (and Myra's brother) disappears and is later found dead, Jack's mean, brash, pot-smoking brother becomes the chief suspect. With the guidance of his only friend - Mr. Gladstein, the town jeweler and solitary Jew, Jack schemes to win Myra's love but first, he must overcome prejudice, navigate the slippery slope between loyalty and self-preservation, and find solid ground.

"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."

* = starred review