Study Guide

Jacob Have I Loved

By Katherine Paterson

Jacob Have I Loved Introduction

It's not easy being second best. No one ever wrote a song called "All I Do Is Nearly Win" or "Simply the Second Best." Nope—the winner gets all the glory, but second place, well, they're first loser.

OK, that's pretty harsh. Being second isn't all that bad, and we wouldn't turn up our nose at a silver medal (in case anyone is offering). Still, though, falling just shy of being top dog can really sting. Take it from Sara Louise Bradshaw in Jacob Have I Loved. Louise lives her entire life in the shadow of her perfect and talented twin sister, Caroline. It begins the moment Caroline is born, when she steals the spotlight by nearly dying—what a drama queen—and it just keeps on keeping on, bolstered by the fact that Caroline is beautiful and can sing like an angel and is all-around #winning. Why would anyone ever pay attention to Louise?

As you can imagine, all of this attention on Caroline really begins to get on Louise's nerves after a while. She's tired of being second best all the time, but try as she might, Louise can't do anything to improve her luck. So, she does the next best thing, instead: she bitterly resents her sister through to adulthood. Nice.

Katherine Paterson said she was inspired to write Jacob Have I Loved when she was thinking about adults who still freak out about childhood jealousies. (Source) She didn't think carrying that kind of bitterness and resentment into adulthood was such a swell idea, so she created Sara Louise Bradshaw—a girl who definitely has a reason to hate her sister, but who also has to figure out how to get over that hatred before it swallows her whole.

If you think this sounds pretty darn interesting, you're not alone: The book won the Newbery Medal in 1981, the year after it came out. In case you're not in the know, this is a huge deal. The medal is awarded to one—and only one—book every year, and it's considered one of the most prestigious in all of children's literature. You go, Paterson.

Is it a little ironic that a story about being second best ended up being a big-time winner? Yup. To fully appreciate this, though, you're going to have to keep reading.

What is Jacob Have I Loved About and Why Should I Care?

Jo and Amy. Bart and Lisa. Elsa and Anna. Thor and Loki. If you have a brother or sister, you already know what these pairs have in common: sibling rivalry.

Right from the title, Jacob Have I Loved harkens back to one of the most epic sibling rivalries in history—Jacob and Esau. The Bible is filled with competitive relationships like this, and Katherine Paterson explores many of the same themes, including jealousy, favoritism, and inequality. There's a kind of assumption that two kids raised in the same family should get an equal shake in life, but this is rarely how the world works. While we can probably all agree that life's not fair, life can seem a whole lot more unfair when it's your beloved sister getting dealt all the good cards.

You know who gets hurt the most by Louise's jealousy, though? Spoiler alert: it isn't Caroline. So, if you find yourself clenching your fists every time your brother gets another gold star on his homework assignment, you might want to pay extra careful attention while you read this book.

And, hey, even if you're an only child, you're going to get this whole sibling rivalry thing. Everyone struggles with jealousy sometimes, after all.

(What's that? You never feel jealous? Fine, then; now, we're just jealous of you.)

Basically, the big theme of the book is that jealousy and envy are normal things; they're part of life. What matters isn't that sometimes we envy someone else, though; it's how we react to this feeling. Are you going to stew in bitterness, or move on and live your life? In the end, Louise would agree with Elsa and tell you to let it go.

Jacob Have I Loved Resources

Websites

Welcome to KP's World
Check out Katherine Paterson's website. She's written some really great books (in addition to this one), and this website has the lowdown on them. It also has info about Paterson, the awards she's won, and more.

Movie or TV Productions

Jacob Have I Loved (1989)
Take a peek at the 1989 TV movie based on our story.

Articles and Interviews

Jacob Have I Loved Have I Loved
People love this book and re-reading it is super fun, too. Why not give it a try?

Vision of Self in Jacob Have I Loved
Check out this cool little essay about self-acceptance in this novel. Louise really needs to read it.

Video

Katherine Paterson on Video
Here's a great series of videos that make up one big, awesome interview with the author that were filmed back in 2011.

All About Smith Island
Here's a video all about watermen living on Smith Island in Maryland.

An Interview With Katherine Paterson
In 2014, Paterson went on NPR to discuss how she grew up and the books she writes.

Images

Katherine Paterson
Wonder what Paterson looks like? Wonder no more; here's a photo of the author.

Cover Art
Our favorite bit of cover art (which proudly displays the Newbery Medal on the front).

Chesapeake Bay
Rass Island might not be a real place, but the Chesapeake Bay sure is. You can even spot where the island might have been located once you find Crisfield (and imagine taking that ferry ride).