Jacob Have I Loved by Katherine Paterson

Jacob Have I Loved by Katherine Paterson. 2590 lines. Kindle. 1980.

As referenced earlier, I first read this book as an 8-year-old. I liked it, but also found it boring. My goal in re-reading the book was to discover what the younger me missed. And now I completely understand why the younger me found the novel slightly boring.

Despite my aptitude for reading, I have always been somewhat stunted in the emotional development department. I now believe my boredom with the novel stemmed from a lack of understanding of the main character, Sarah Louise or Wheeze. She has deep running emotions, and because no one on the island truly understands her, she has deep seeded frustrations with no outlet through which her rage can be vented. She has only one sanctuary on the island, and I was heartsick when it was destroyed by the hurricane.

Sarah Louise also struggles to define herself as something other than Caroline’s twin. The preferential treatment Caroline recieves;from Wheeze’s family and her closest friends is infuriating. In addition, she harbors an inner resentment towards her mother. In Sarah’s mind, her mother chose to imprison herself on the island, an island Sarah loves but one that could be compared to a golden cage, a beautiful prison.

As an adult, I can completely identify with Sarah Louise’s struggle for identity and purpose in life. Wheeze knows what she doesn’t want, but has no idea what her are actual hopes and dreams. It’s difficult to mold your life around such unfocused thoughts. I would compare Sarah Louise to the hurricane that stormed across Rass Island. Her insides are a swirling, chaotic fury with no direction. It’s not until after Caroline leaves the island that Wheeze is able to truly find focus. In a scene I found to be both touching and insightful, the Captains tells Wheeze that she never needed anything handed to her because it was within her power all along to snatch up her dreams and run with them:

“He shook his head. “Sara Louise. You were never meant to be a woman on this island. A man, perhaps. Never a woman.” […additional text…]
“Pish. Rubbish. You can do anything you want to. I’ve know that from the first day I met you–at the other end of my periscope.”
“What is it you really want to do?”
I was totally blank. What was it I really wanted to do?
“Don’t know?” It was almost a taunt. I was fidgeting under his gaze. “Your sister knew what she wanted, so when the chance came, she could take it.”
I opened my mouth, but he waved me quiet. “You, Sara Louise. Don’t tell me no one ever gave you a chance. You don’t need anything given to you. You can make your own chances. But first you have to know what you’re after, my dear.”

Sara Louise has sacrificed herself for her family and for her sister her entire life. However it’s not until this conversation that she’s ever really been given permission to put herself first. After this conversation with the Captain, she picks a fight with her mother, a women she believes could have had the world, but instead chose to voluntarily trap herself on the island. Sara Louise expresses her desire to leave, and realizes she had never voiced this desire to anyone. She realizes she is as guilty of her ‘second place’ status as her family and friends. She is finally able to leave the island. I’m really happy I decided to read this book again as an adult. I was too young the first time I read it and completely unable to identify with the complexity of Sara Louise emotional depth and family relationships.

Note: This is the cover of the book I read as an 8year old. I love how delightfully 80’s her clothing is.


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