Module 8: The Mostly True Story of Jack

Book Summary:

Jack must go and spend the summer at his slight off-kilter aunt and uncle’s house in Hazelwood, Iowa while his parents sort through their divorce.  He surprised to find new friends in Hazelwood since he is usually ignored by most of the people around him.  He also attracts the attention of the town bully.

Jack soon finds that something strange is happening in Hazelwood and he seems to have an unexplained understanding of the happenings, but he fights it since it makes him uncomfortable.  Finally the town begins to come apart as the strong magic contained in and around the town begins to unravel.  Jack is the unknowing connection between the forces of both good and evil.  Will he be able to come to an understanding about what is happening and his part in it before it is too late?

Barnhill, K. (2011).  The mostly true story of Jack. New York, NY: Little, Brown and Company.


This story started really strong.  I like any kind of supernatural tale and this one seemed to fit the bill.  However, I have to admit that Jack became increasingly whiny through out the story.  At first, I could see where the author was trying to make a point about how difficult his life had been before he came to Hazeltown and how he was having trouble adjusting to the seemingly fantastical saga that was unfolding in his new environment, but it quickly became boring to read and irritating.

Otherwise, the story itself was interesting.  I liked the idea of a fairy or witch whose two sides good and evil have become separated and are now doing battle to win the ultimate power.  It is mirroring the struggle that most humans encounter on a daily basis, but perhaps on a smaller scale.  I’m not a fairy and folk tale expert, but I think the author combined several different tales to create The Mostly True Story of Jack.

I also think the author did a good job of coming up with a “happy” ending that is also the most likely out of a fantastical story.  It was not all rainbows and sunshine, but there was not too steep a price paid either.  I would recommend this for upper elementary to middle school students who either enjoy fantasy or fairy tales.

Professional Review:

Gr 5–8–Bullies and distracted, disinterested parents have left Jack with zero self-esteem when he arrives in the mysterious town of Hazelwood, IA. His mother coldly and unceremoniously dumps him off to spend the summer with his quirky aunt and uncle, Mabel and Clive Fitzpatrick. Barnhill’s practiced use of personification signals readers that the Fitzpatricks’ house and other inanimate objects are strangely alive. While Jack doesn’t recollect having been there before, he has bouts of remembering, not quite déjà vu, and things seem eerily familiar in this spooky town where kids go missing and folks just seem to forget they existed. There’s plenty of foreshadowing to alert readers to the scariness ahead as Jack makes friends, develops self-confidence, embarks on the age-old battle of good versus evil and, in the end, finds the place, albeit a strange one, where he belongs.”

McClune, P. N. (2011, September). [Review of the book The mostly true story of Jack, by K. Barnhill]. School library journal, 57(9), 144. Retrieved from

Library Uses:

I think this would be a great book for a elementary or middle school book group to use.  I think it is one of those books like Harry Potter or Hunger Games which has universal appeal and so would be interesting to both boys and girls.  It also has enough action and adventure to keep even reluctant readers going.

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Filed under 5420 Literature for Youth

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