Let me begin with a small admission, dear readers. I am not a big fan of framed narratives - a story being told within a story - and Mister Jack is constructed in such a fashion. Once I glommed onto the type of story Mister Jack was going to be, my defenses were raised. I hate to admit it, but Chris Kosarich had to overcome a fair bit of bias on my part; unfair to him, perhaps, but still true. He was going to have to tell me one hell of a story to keep my attention and overcome my ingrained dislike of framed narratives. Did it work? Well, if you noticed the four-star rating already, you probably have a pretty good inkling of whether or not Kosarich was successful.
Readers are introduced to a trio of high schoolers heading out to a Halloween party, but first they have an important stop to make. It's high school tradition for kids to venture out to the decrepit, possibly abandoned, homestead of Josie Howard - a witch, according to local legend- and egg and toilet paper her house. Before they can get on with their prank, though, they find themselves face to face with Howard and are soon enraptured by her story of the urban legend, Mister Jack.
Mister Jack is a pretty simple story when all is said and done. Mike, Tully, and Maddie are there primarily to just sit around and listen to Josie's story, and the bulk of this small novella's page count is dedicated to Howard's recitation. Even though this type of narrative isn't my favorite, I still found myself highly interested in Kosarich's book for a few reasons.
First off, Kosarich absolutely nails the voice of Josie. I had no trouble picturing her or hearing her voice in my head, right down to her southern Floridian lilt. She is positively engaging, and thankfully so is her story. The legend of Mister Jack himself is the second reason Mister Jack the book worked so well for me. His is the type of legend that grabs you by the shirt collar and demands attention. The meat of Jack's story is compelling enough that I got over my own personal hurdles with framing conventions and I was able to get lost in Josie's story. Kosarich's framing gambit absolutely paid off, and while I'm still not a fan of this particular narrative technique I do have to give the author plenty of credit for making it work so well.
In presenting the story of Mister Jack within the overarching story of these three high schoolers and their encounter with Josie, Kosarich managed to pique my curiosity a few times. Although I haven't read Kosarich's previous works, it's clear he's an author who knows what he's doing. He plants a few seeds throughout Josie's narration that call into question her reliability as a narrator and why she has chosen this particular trio of teens to engage with. As engaging as the story of Mister Jack was, I was equally invested in uncovering Josie's motivations, motivations that provided an extra layer of much-welcomed tension and mystery.
Mister Jack is packed with a surprising amount of story that belies its rather short page count. There's enough meat built into this story for Kosarich to write a book or two about Summerdale's past and Jack's legacy, and if he ever elects to return to this particular urban legend I am absolutely here for it. The character of Mister Jack has so much freaking potential it would be a shame if we're not treated to a few more stories of his, and I'm hoping the author is now busy figuring out ways to shock and entertain us with more of Jack's Halloween exploits.
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