Life is tough for Jack at the Opportunities School. Somehow, he managed to stay out of trouble. According to the book’s pitch, “he has skipped over trouble, danced around trouble, slid under trouble, melted away from trouble, talked his way out of trouble and slipped between two close troubles like a cat through a picket fence”. When he turned 12, he was given a life-changing opportunity and suddenly he was always in trouble. However, because of Jack’s wisdom gained from observations and his courage to accept some things as they are, the troubles become blessings in disguise.
“You must be clever,” said Gus. “I’m not clever. Storm. Boat. Creature. Does it always work?”
Otherjack sighed and turned back to the sink. “No. Nothing always work. Some days Cook cannot be turned away from his anger. But one knock a week is better than beating a day. Just remember, slops and slaps is the life of a scullery boy, but so is stories.” --page 26
You know what I like about Jack? He’s a reader. He cherishes the dictionary he received as a present, which does not even has an A to B section in it, so when he is sent to be a bookkeeper’s apprentice, he is excitedly ignorant of what bookkeeping entails. Still, the dictionary made his days more colorful.
A sunrise was better when you knew the word sublime. Oatmeal for dinner was somehow not so sad when you knew the word mingy. A bashing from Edwin was not so horrible when you could secretly call him a vandal.
Best of all, the other boys could not steal or spoil Otherjack’s words. They were his secret hoard. --page 22
From the Opportunities School to the rest of his life, Jack ventures and drifts into several lives in the society until he makes a decision on what he wants to be. He admirably makes creative associations of what are in store for each life. For instance, pants and possibilities compose the life of a somebody while views, vicissitudes, and vastness compose the life of a bird of passage. In the end, he is given two best options. My heart was rooting for him to stay and be surrounded by a group of loving people. But he makes a decision that readers could see coming, surprising nonetheless. That decision makes him a man.
Apart from its lyrical composition, I enjoyed the glimpse of history from the eyes of a 12-year-old tramp who manifests resourcefulness and initiative in order to survive and still be happy. It is no wonder that this must-read masterpiece of children’s literature was declared winner of the Mr. Christie’s Book Award and the IODE Violet Downey Book Award and was shortlisted for the 2003 Governor General’s Literary Award for English children’s text.
Here are some more striking passages to reflect on or live by:
How could time be money? Money was heavy and made a clinking sound, and you kept it in your pocket or in a treasure chest. Time was light and quiet, and you couldn’t keep it at all. --page 27
With every step he left a little bit of Otherjack behind in the dust. No bells, no rules, no masters. His shadow followed him and then he followed his shadow as he made his way toward the sea. He skipped and danced and strolled and knew without a glimmer of a doubt that he could do it. He could walk anywhere. To the sea. To Zanzibar. To the rest of his life. --page 42
...a young man in search of his fortune does not cower in the bottom of a cart, listening to his stomach rumbling and pretending to be a pumpkin. He looks around boldly to see what the world has to offer. --page 48
(looking at the sea) “Cook didn’t tell me that it made you big inside just to look at it. Bigger than big. Vast.” --page 49
(Lou to Jack) “...And did you see the over-good children? I don’t believe they are children at all. I think they are shrunk-down grown-ups. They don’t know what fun is.” --page 59
The ways of the world and the ways of school. Not so different after all. --page 70
Have you read The Several Lives of Orphan Jack? What are your thoughts?
- Nancy -