The Mostly True Story of Jack

Book review by
Sally Engelfried, Common Sense Media
The Mostly True Story of Jack Book Poster Image
Lonely boy fights evil to save town in exciting page turner.

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Kids say

age 11+
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The parents' guide to what's in this book.

Educational Value

The complex theme of a necessary balance between good and evil is woven through the story, but it never becomes preachy.

Positive Messages

Mr. Avery is punished for sacrificing a child to the power of the earth and twisting that power for his own profit, while Jack's actions to unite the dueling forces of good and evil promise peace and prosperity to the town of Hazelwood. However, the larger, more subtle message is that the land and things that grow must be respected in order for people to be happy. The power of memory and honoring the past is also emphasized.

Positive Role Models & Representations

Though he resists believing in the town's magic, Jack finally realizes what's at stake and is resourceful, smart, and heroic. Wendy is fearless and a staunch protector of all that she values. Their friends and family -- even the cats -- support all they do to overcome the town's ancient curse.


Children go missing in Hazleton, and several of them are encountered as ghosts midway through the story. Though the violence that caused their death isn't graphically described, the terrible scars on Frankie, the only child who survives the experience, let readers know that though this is a fantasy, it's deadly serious.

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that this fantasy about a neglected boy who moves to a small rural town includes a rich despot who is willing to kill children in order to retain his power and save his own son. The very real prospect of children mysteriously disappearing is disturbing, but as Jack slowly fits the pieces together of just how the town of Hazleton came to be cursed, the excitement overrides the scariness. Wendy's encounter with souls of the long-gone children may be frightening to some, but the girl's refusal to be scared will help sensitive readers feel brave.

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Kid, 12 years old January 6, 2012

Touching book is more than a tad creepy.

The Mostly True Story of Jack is exciting, and near impossible to put down, but is also violent and creepy. Similar to the movie Coraline in violence and creep... Continue reading

What's the story?

Jack's mother barely notices him as she leaves him at the home of his aunt and uncle, whom he's never met. In fact, Jack is so invisible there's not a trace of him in any family photo. But all that changes when he arrives in Hazlewood, Iowa. The town bully beats him up and the richest man in town wants him dead. But even more important, he makes friends for the first time in his life. As Jack unravels the mysterious history of the town and slowly begins to believe in the magic that his friends claim is at the root of it, the danger mounts.

Is it any good?

Barnhill successfully weaves in the everyday loneliness of a real kid with a town's magical history to make this a fascinating and satisfying page turner. From the beginning, when his mother barely seems to notice him, it's clear that there's something odd about Jack. But no one is more surprised than Jack when people in Hazelwood know more about his destiny than he does. 

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about

  • why the Lady split into two halves. Did anything good come of the split?

  • What do you think gave Wendy the ability to stand up to the town bully and even Mr. Avery? Have you ever been that brave?

  • Did you find the ending satisfying? Do you think Jack was satisfied with the outcome of his adventures? How about Wendy?

  • Do you think there's room for a sequel to this story?

Book details

Our editors recommend

For kids who love fantasy

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