Jack: The True Story of Jack and the Beanstalk
By Liesl Shurtliff
Expected publication April 14, 2015 by Knopf Books for Young Readers
Jack is the seven-greats grandson of the infamous Jack the Giant Killer and he knows it's only a matter of time before he lives up to that kind of destiny. So, when giants descend from the sky and kidnap his father, Jack knows his moment has arrived. It turns out, though, that giant slaying is not as easy as it sounded and the world where the giants live is more complicated than Jack had imagined.
So, you might know by now that I'm a big fan of fairy tale retellings. Shurtliff's debut, Rump, was on last year's state reading list and I just recently listened to the audio version. I'm really glad I managed to squeeze it in before reading this one.
Though you needn't have read the first book to enjoy this one, I think the experience of Jack is made richer if you have. In fact, I think that was my favorite thing about this book - seeing how Shurtliff tied the world she'd created in the first into the new world she was building in the second. I thought it was brilliantly done and I loved coming upon characters and situations I knew from the first book. As I said, it's not necessary to have read Rump before reading this one - it is almost an entirely new set of characters and any reappearing characters are introduced as though the reader would be unfamiliar with them. Surprisingly, I didn't find this annoying - I think Shurtliff managed to make a read that would be richer for having read the first book but not alienating if you hadn't. Like I said, this was my favorite thing about this book and now I'm eager to see what other stories she'll introduce to this world.
As for this story on its own, I quite enjoyed it. I thought Jack was a fun character, though I admit I liked his little sister just a bit more. I admired Jack's desire to rescue his dad and live up to his name, even though it led to some frustrating moments. I enjoyed the appearance of a variety of fairy tale creatures and I liked the perspective that Jack brought to the world Above, particularly as it contrasted with the perspectives in Rump.
The book does get a little message-y at the end, but it is a good message and one that I think speaks particularly to children (it certainly would have spoken to me as a child), so it didn't bother me too much. Even if it does get too preachy for some readers, it's really a small fraction of an otherwise action-packed and exciting story, so they shouldn't mind too much.
As I said, I'm looking forward to seeing what other tales Shurtliff will introduce to this world - it looks like Red's story will be next! Very enjoyable and I can imagine lots of patrons I'll be sharing this one with!
Thanks to the publisher for a digital advance reader's copy, provided via Edelweiss.