Jacob Have I Loved
by Katherine Paterson
Interests: family, sibling rivalry, jealousy, twins, coming of age, religion
Harper & Row: 1980
Also by this author: Bridge to Terabithia, The Great Gilly Hopkins, The Master Puppeteer, The Day of the Pelican
Sarah Louise is a few minutes older than Caroline, but has lived her entire life in her twin’s shadow. It began on the very day of their birth, when Caroline was so tiny and sick that all attention was focused on her, while healthy Sarah Louise was left alone in a basket. Caroline grows up to be beautiful, cheerful, talented, always in the spotlight. And at age thirteen Sarah Louise is becoming distinctly resentful.
Life in a very small community of crab fishermen is stifling for the tormented teen, particularly when the whole town worships her sister. Sarah Louise falls prey to jealousy and self-pity, which twists her friendships and her relationship with her parents. Living with a grandmother who quotes scripture incessantly and is descending into dementia does not help the situation. Neither does Sarah’s sudden, bewildering attraction to a much older man.
Sarah’s jealousy slowly poisons her view of the world and herself, until it threatens her future happiness. Luckily she manages to turn the corner and move forward. She leaves the island to go to university and finally begins to find her own way in the world.
The emotional struggles of the main character are understated but clear, and the author refrains from overt sermonizing. Not so Sarah’s grandmother, who provides the biblical quote of the title: regarding the twins Jacob and Esau, God claims to love Jacob and hate Esau. Sarah Louise is struck by this passage and, feeling cursed and alone, falls into depression. Her stubborn refusal to confide in others, or even to make her desires known, confines her to life on the island without prospects or hope. When she finally explodes in a frank conversation with her mother, it turns out that her parents have loved her dearly all along, and that the only person holding Sarah back is Sarah herself.
A classic coming-of-age scenario, without the romantic drama of most books of this type. This novel explores complex family relationships, and how we handicap ourselves with doubt and envy.