Study Guide

Jacob Have I Loved Coming of Age

By Katherine Paterson

Coming of Age

Chapter 2

I was proud of my sister, but that year, something began to rankle beneath the pride. Life begins to turn upside down at thirteen. I know that now. But at the time I thought the blame for my unhappiness must be fixed—on Caroline, on my grandmother, on my mother, even on myself. Soon I was able to blame the war. (2.31)

Louise has always sort of gone along with being the second-best daughter in the family, but once she becomes a teenager, things are different. Growing up can make something that once seemed little turn into a really big deal.

Chapter 3

"The Japanese in a predawn surprise attack have destroyed the American fleet at Pearl Harbor. I repeat. The White House has confirmed that the Japanese …"

I knew by the chill that went through my body that it meant war. All my magazine reading and overheard remarks fell at once into a grotesque but understandable pattern. I rushed up to our room where Caroline, still innocent and golden, lay stomach down on her bed reading. (3.5-6)

This is the moment where the veil of childhood really drops from Louise's eyes. There's a war going on, and the Japanese have attacked America. It's a real grown-up thing, and she only has Caroline to share it with. Luckily, the girls manage to stay civil long enough to lose their innocence.

Chapter 7

Nothing went right for me that summer, unless you count the fact that when my periods began, almost a year after Caroline's of course, they began on a Sunday morning before I left the house for church instead of after, but the stain went clear through my pants and slip to my only good dress. Momma let me pretend to be sick. What else could she do? I couldn't wash and dry my dress in time for Sunday school. (7.42)

It might be lovely to be a woman, but not when it happens all over your best dress. Poor Louise. She cannot catch a break that summer, and her body and mind are changing faster than she's ready for.

Chapter 8

Even I, wanting so much to believe, could tell it was mimeographed. The only thing typed in was my name, and that had been misspelled. I was a fool, but I'm proud to say, not that big a fool. Heartsick, I ripped the letter down to its last exclamation point and flung it like confetti out into the water. (8.17)

This little moment takes place right after Louise gets her letter back from the company to which she sent her poetry/song lyrics. Turns out, it was all a scam to get you to pay to have your song lyrics taken. So much for youthful dreams of writing glory, right?

Chapter 11

But even if he never told a soul, how was I to face him again? Just thinking of his smell, his feel, his hands, made my body go hot all over. "He's older than your grandmother," I kept saying to myself. "When your grandmother was a child, he was nearly a man already." My grandmother was sixty-three. She seemed like a hundred, but she was sixty-three. I knew because my father had been born when she was sixteen. The Captain had to be seventy or more. I was fourteen, for mercy's sake. Fourteen from seventy was fifty-six. Fifty-six. But then my mind would go to the curve of his perfect thumbnail, and my body would flame up like pine pitch. (11.39)

Being a teenager is tough, and Louise is having some pretty complicated feelings here. This is the first time she's felt anything romantic for another person, and she's not dealing too well. Of course, it's weird that the Captain is old enough to be her grandpa, but hey, hormones don't always make sense, do they?

Chapter 15

I just shook my head, not trusting myself to reply. Why should it matter if I minded? How would that change anything? The Captain, who I'd always believed was different, had, like everyone else, chosen her over me. Since the day we were born, twins like Jacob and Esau, the younger had ruled the older. Did anyone ever say Esau and Jacob?

"Jacob have I loved …" Suddenly my stomach flipped. Who was speaking? I couldn't remember the passage. Was it Isaac, the father of the twins? No, even the Bible said that Isaac had favored Esau. Rebecca, the mother, perhaps? It was her conniving that helped Jacob steal the blessing from his brother. Rebecca—I had hated her from childhood, but somehow I knew that these were not her words […]

I took my Bible from our little crate bookcase, and bringing it over to the light, looked up the passage Grandma had cited. Romans, the ninth chapter and the thirteenth verse. The speaker was God.

I was shaking all over as I closed the book and got back under the covers. There was, then, no use struggling or even trying. It was God himself who hated me. And without cause. "Therefore," verse eighteen had gone on to rub it in, "hath he mercy on whom he will have mercy, and whom he will he hardeneth." God had chosen to hate me. And if my heart was hard, that was his doing as well. (15.7-9, 11-12)

This is a big moment for Louise. She's always clung to the religious teachings she was raised with, and here she finally understands the truth (or thinks she does, anyway): God hates her, and that's why her life stinks so much. This isn't exactly a warm and fuzzy thing to find out, and it leads Louise to pretty much reject God from here on out.

Chapter 16

"So. What's Miss Caroline got to say for herself these days?"

Call's face flamed in pleasure. It was the question he had been bursting to answer. "She—she said, 'Yes.'"

I knew, of course, what he meant. There was no need to press him to explain. But something compelled me to hear my own doom spelled out. "'Yes' to what?" I asked.

"Let's just say," he was eyeing the Captain slyly. "Let's just say she answered her Call." (16.80-83)

Could it possibly get any worse for this girl? Louise is dealing with so much in this moment. Call has just returned, and she's started to realize she might have feelings for him (or feelings for anyone, really), and it's all snatched away from her yet again. Another childish dream shattered by the perfect Caroline.

Chapter 17

"You can do anything you want to. I've known that from the first day I met you—at the other end of my periscope."

"But—"

"What is it you really want to do?"

I was totally blank. What was it I really wanted to do?

"Don't know?" It was almost a taunt. I was fidgeting under his gaze. "Your sister knew what she wanted, so when the chance came, she could take it."

I opened my mouth, but he waved me quiet. "You, Sara Louise. Don't tell me no one ever gave you a chance. You don't need anything given to you. You can make your own chances. But first you have to know what you're after, my dear." His tone was softening.

"When I was younger I wanted to go to boarding school in Crisfield—"

"Too late for that now."

"I—this sounds silly—but I would like to see the mountains."

"That's easy enough. Couple of hundred miles west is all." He waited, expecting more.

"I might—" the ambition began to form along with the sentence. "I want to be a doctor."

"So?" He was leaning forward, staring warmly at me. "So what's to stop you?" (17.74-85)

Part of becoming an adult is figuring out what the heck you want to do with your life. During this conversation with the Captain, Louise is finally forced to figure that out. This is the first time we ever hear her admit she might want to be a doctor, though she can't quite commit to it just yet.

Chapter 18

Did I see her flinch, ever so slightly? "What do you want us to do for you, Louise?"

"Let me go. Let me leave!"

"Of course you may leave. You never said before you wanted to leave."

And, oh, my blessed, she was right. All my dreams of leaving, but beneath them I was afraid to go. I had clung to them, to Rass, yes, even to my grandmother, afraid that if I loosened my fingers an iota, I would find myself once more cold and clean in a forgotten basket.

"I chose the island," she said. "I chose to leave my own people and build a life for myself somewhere else. I certainly wouldn't deny you that same choice. But," and her eyes held me if her arms did not, "oh, Louise, we will miss you, your father and I."

I wanted so to believe her. "Will you really?" I asked. "As much as you miss Caroline?"

"More," she said, reaching up and ever so lightly smoothing my hair with her fingertips. (18.40-46)

And now, Louise can finally go. All the kid has ever wanted her entire life was for someone to admit she's worthwhile, that she has something Caroline doesn't. Now, her mother finally tells her that she will be missed more than Caroline. This is all she needs to start out on her own.

Chapter 20

My own breasts were swollen with milk for Truitt. I knew his father would bring him to me soon, but there was plenty. I took my baby out of the oven and held her mouth to catch the milk, which began to flow of its own accord. A perfect tongue, smaller than a newborn kitten's, reached out for the drops of milk on her lips. Then the little mouth rooted against my breast until she had found the nipple for herself. (20.30)

It might seem weird to think about coming of age when you're old enough to be a mom and have your own job, but Louise still has growing to do even as an adult. (Age is just a number, yo.) Here, she finally puts aside her childish sibling rivalry by caring for this baby, a proxy for her sister. Yup, we think our little girl is all grown up.

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