________________ CM . . . . Volume IV Number 10 . . . . January 16, 1998

cover Jack's Black Book.

Jack Gantos.
New York, NY: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1997. Canadian distributor: Douglas & McIntyre.
165 pp, hardcover, $21.00.
ISBN 0-374-33662-8.

Subject Headings:
Humourous stories.

Grades 5 - 8 / Ages 10 - 13.
Review by Mary Thomas.

** /4


Right next to my personal diary was my new writer's journal. It was totally blank. Not a pencil scratch. Hardly a fingerprint. I bought the plain black book with unlined pages because I had decided to write a novel. I had made up my mind to become a writer, so I figured, why wait until I'm old?... But I didn't know how to write a novel. I didn't know what my characters were like. I didn't know the setting. I didn't have a plot, or a theme, or even a beginning, middle, or end. ... I was still waiting for a good idea to strike me. I had read in an old writers' magazine that authors, when they were stuck, sometimes just needed to sit around in their bathrobes and stare dreamily up at the ceiling. Until, suddenly, an angel called a writer's "muse" wold descend and whisper inspirational ideas into their ears. Then bingo, their pens begin to move across the pages like the pointer on a Ouija board. But the more I stared at the cracks in my ceiling while dressed in a terry-cloth bathrobe, sucking on my lead pencil point with my ears perked up like a Chihuahua's, the only ideas that rolled around my empty head were ugly. Give up. Throw in the towel. You don't have what it takes to write a novel. My stupidity was stalking me like some big dumb monster.
Jack's problem, or one of Jack's problems, is that he wants to be a writer - is sure that he is a writer, except that the muse hasn't struck yet - but everyone else, including his totally non-supportive family, thinks he is somewhere between dumb and brain dead. Three interrelated but quite separate stories leave the reader with the strong impression that both views may be right!

      In the first section, Jack is shown as an appealing loser, someone who practically fails seventh grade because he insists on making a dog coffin for his woodworking project. Perseverance pays off, however, and he persuades the teacher to pass him (and thus avoids having to go to summer school in woodworking!), but only by digging up his dog coffin and removing his very dead dog, so as to be able to submit his project. He's a loser, but he wins, sort of. The second and third sections are less sympathetic, though they have their funny moments. In one, Jack and his younger brother start a business where the brother pretends to be blind and takes polaroid pictures of vacationers on the beach, supposedly aiming his camera at the sound of their voices as they sing for him. The brother does the work, Jack takes all the money, and then loses it again attempting to buy a date with a gorgeous swimmer. In the third, Jack seems to think he can redeem a somewhat reformed psychopath, gets his toe tattooed, nearly gets blown up by playing with gasoline and matches, and generally is dumber than he is funny.

      In short, Jack's Black Book starts out quite well but runs downhill rapidly. It's too bad, but there is not a lot of point in saying that it would have been nice if the author had written a different book.

Not recommended.

Having started her working life as a chemist, Mary Thomas took the opportunity of a parenthood break to switch to a career in Kiddie Lit, first by selling children's books, and now as a library technician, working in two very different Winnipeg schools.

To comment on this title or this review, send mail to cm@umanitoba.ca.

Copyright © 1998 the Manitoba Library Association. Reproduction for personal use is permitted only if this copyright notice is maintained. Any other reproduction is prohibited without permission.

Published by
The Manitoba Library Association
ISSN 1201-9364