Jackaby

Book review by
Andrea Beach, Common Sense Media
Jackaby Book Poster Image
Delightfully creepy 1890s mystery has some light horror.

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this book.

Educational Value

Kids will learn lots of vivid details about daily life in 1890s New England. They'll also learn some background and history about supernatural phenomena and folklore, with some extra detail on banshees.

Positive Messages

People aren't always what they seem; sometimes the most highly regarded people are really monsters inside, and sometimes people who seem odd are the ones who really know what's going on. Don't concern yourself with how things look to other people, because they're usually wrong.

Positive Role Models & Representations

Narrator Abigail Rook, who's about 16, ran away from home in search of adventure. She had a good home life, but she wasn't satisfied with the idea of spending her life as little more than an ornament when she craved action and excitement. She writes to her parents to let them know she's OK, but she doesn't tell them where she is, and they can't write to her. She makes her way on her own all the way from the Ukraine to New England. She's clever, resourceful, and brave. Jackaby is an eccentric private detective who sees the supernatural but also uses Sherlock Holmes-style logic and science to solve cases. He effectively guides and teaches Abigail and is concerned for her well-being.

Violence

A serial murderer's on the loose, and blood is mentioned frequently. The gruesome aftermath of the murders is described without much detail or gore, but the smell and color of blood are mentioned, as are spatters, smears, and pools of blood. Abigail's in peril a couple of times from supernatural sources that might scare younger readers. There's a violent fight in which blows and kicks are described, Abigail and another character are seriously injured, and gunshots are fired, knocking the target out; the pain and consequences of the violence is described. A fairy creature has to keep an article of clothing wet with human blood in order to live. A scary monster's sharp, bloodstained teeth are described in some detail. A character getting impaled with a sword-like weapon is described in some detail.

Sex

A nude statue and a naked man are mentioned, but neither is described. Other people imply or ask if Abigail and Jackaby's relationship is romantic, which it isn't. Abigail's attracted to a young policeman, but they only exchange looks and blush.

Language

"Damned," "hell," and "ass" are each used once.

Consumerism
Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Abigail is served "a pint" in a bar, slowly sips it, and describes it as "bitter ale." "Drunken degenerates" in a bar are mentioned. A "dirty joke" about rowdy drunkards is mentioned but not told. A peaceful drunk in a holding cell is mentioned. A minor character has a cigarette in his ear, and people in the background are mentioned as smoking and putting out cigarettes.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Jackaby is a fantasy detective story about solving a serial murder case. There's some light horror, and some scary, supernatural events and creatures endanger the heroine, Abigail. The murder victims are only briefly described, but blood's mentioned a lot and it's clear they met gruesome ends. There's also a violent fight with gunshots, impaling on a sword, and violent blows, with the pain and suffering of injuries fully conveyed. Otherwise there's very little of concern, only a few mild swear words with "ass" being the strongest and one instance of Abigail slowly sipping ale.

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What's the story?

After traveling across Europe, Abigail Rook sails to New England in search of fresh adventure. With no luck finding a job in a strange place, she responds to an ad for an investigative assistant and meets the eccentric Mr. Jackaby, a private investigator who describes himself as a man of science who sees things others do not. Abigail's first day on the job lands her right in the middle of a murder investigation, and when a second victim is discovered, the only thing that's clear is that there are powerful, otherworldly forces at work.

Is it any good?

William Ritter's debut novel introduces a colorful, eccentric new detective whose mysterious antics confound and intrigue. Throw in a plucky, young, new assistant and some deliciously creepy supernatural chills and thrills -- heroine Abigail is believable and compelling as the reader's entree into a delightfully chilling murder mystery -- and teens and tweens who can handle some light horror are in for a real treat.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about why we like to read supernatural stories. Why are they so popular?

  • Jackaby says he's a man of science who sees things others don't, such as magical creatures. How does he show his scientific side? Are science and magic equally important to Jackaby?

  • Why do you think Chapter 13 is just a note saying the chapter was omitted? Did reading the note make you curious? Puzzled? Why do you think the author included it?

Book details

Themes & Topics

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