Napoli, Donna Jo. Crazy Jack. New York: Random House, 1999.
Reason read: August is Fairy Tale month.
Everyone knows the traditional English story of Jack and the Beanstalk. Jack sells the family cow for some worthless beans. Said beans grow into a magical beanstalk that reaches up into the clouds. When Jack climbs the stalk he comes to find the home of an ugly and mean giant. Escaping the giant’s cannibalistic wrath, Jack is able to steal away with a goose that lays golden eggs, a pot of gold, and a magical singing harp.
However, Donna Jo Napoli’s version has more substance in that you meet Jack when he is nine years old and living on a farm with his mother and father. Next door is beautiful Flora and life is perfect. But, Jack’s dad, being a gambler, ends up losing the farm. Literally. In his guilt and shame he commits suicide and Jack goes crazy with grief. Over time Jack’s life is turned upside down. As he grows up, he and his mother become poorer and poorer until finally, they are down to their last cow. To make matters worse, lovely Flora announces her engagement to another (sane) man. True to the original telling, Jack sells the family cow for some seemingly worthless beans that end up growing into a huge beanstalk that reaches the heavens. And like the original story, Jack climbs the beanstalk and discovers that giant and his riches. But, Napoli adds a sex scene and in the end has a powerful message for her readers. Jack may be crazy but he also has a heart. His ending is a happily ever after despite the heartache.
Line I really liked, “I’ll share my bed with whatever dreams come” (p 60).
Author fact: Napoli dedicated Crazy Jack to Barry. I guess he “always stands by his crazy woman.” That made me laugh. She also thanked the librarians at Swathmore College. Napoli sounds like someone with whom I could hang out.
Book trivia: Crazy Jack is so short it can be read in a day, but I wouldn’t recommend that. Take your time with Jack and the Giant. You won’t regret it.
Nancy said: Napoli’s reinterpretations of classic tales are good for teenage girls (More Book Lust, p 94).
BookLust Twist: from More Book Lust in the chapter called “Fractured Fairy Tales” (p 93).