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The Mostly True Story of Jack

Lonely boy fights evil to save town in exciting page turner.

What parents need to know

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

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.

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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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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. 

Families can talk 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

Author:Kelly Barnhill
Topics:Magic and fantasy
Book type:Fiction
Publisher:Little, Brown Books for Young Readers
Publication date:August 2, 2011
Number of pages:323
Publisher's recommended age(s):8 - 12

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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 creepiness, this book includes remnants of the old evil fairies. The town has a past where kids are stolen away. The rich man who leads the town will sacrifice more children, including Jack, to make sure his vile son Clayton doesn't get taken. Jack's parents don't seem to acknowledge him, and he has many pictures of a mom, a dad, and a boy, in which another boy, Jack, is hand-drawn in. Wendy encounters the "spirits" of the missing children who are frightening, but Wendy doesn't cave. Her brother, Frankie, was missing at one point, but came back, with numerous scars. In the end, the underlying theme is about sacrifice, and the courage to do what's right.
What other families should know
Educational value
Great messages
Great role models