Mama doesn’t like boys, but Jack’s not like most boys.
Born a girl during the Civil War, Jack has been passing as a boy in the slums of Five Points, Manhattan, since running away from an orphans’ home at age eight. He makes his living at petty thievery, surviving pocket watch-to-pocket watch until he discovers a talent for gambling.
Lucy is a bright girl trapped in a dreary life with her widowed mother. When she meets Jack on the street, her days are happier than they have ever been. But her heart is broken when mother takes her far from New York, perhaps never to see Jack again. Her new home in a rowdy Arizona mining town is as dismal as ever, but she finds a glimmer of hope in dreams of a career on stage.
Now, to find their way to the life they promised each other, Jack and Lucy will have to dodge dangers and take risks they never dreamed of as childhood sweethearts.
Jack tells the story of a cross-dressing, biracial teenager in 1800s America, when tolerance was low and society was largely male dominated. Cate not only addresses the perils of being transgender in a historical context, but focuses on the corruption of a male dominated society and racial tension in the civil war era. But aside from all that, Jack is much more than a story that has the intention to educate. It is a novel which stems from romance; Jack, the titular character, strives to reunite with his childhood sweetheart, Lucy, after she and her mother leave New York to live in Arizona. And as Jack and Lucy inch towards their happy ending, they encounter adventure and heartbreak.
This novel, as a whole, was a breath of fresh air. The characters were a little two-dimensional, but I felt as if Cate’s intention was to focus more on the story-line than character development. The plot was fast paced, edgy for a historical novel, and, therefore, some of the development was a little too convenient for me, however, I enjoyed the mystery behind some of the characters, their schemes and foibles; there was parts in the story where I became breathless with excitement; parts where I swooned at the romance and particular parts where I couldn’t help cringing with disgust (as the author surely intended). Cate knows how to write a fast-paced adventure.
Perhaps this is me as a reader, but I love to know more detail. Yes, I love me some juicy imagery and slow, sensual description. Jack seemed to lack some depth where the writing was concerned. And although the short free prequel, Jump, gives the reader insight about Jack’s background, I still felt as if there was something holding me back from indulging in the character’s emotions; the love between Jack and Lucy was a little under-developed, very sudden and slightly rushed.
A particular racy scene between Jack and Lucy was much needed. The physical intimacy between the characters, not just Jack and Lucy, but Bill and Shanna gave the story a more mature angle, made their love slightly more believable and interesting, and developed the relationship, giving it a more realistic, grittier edge. Hats off to Cate for not blurring out the scene or eschewing it completely, but instead, telling her story exactly the way she desires it to be told.
Jack’s plot line and ingenuity was brilliant. I thought Cate pulled off the motif of gambling throughout her story well; Jack’s propensity towards gambling and the palm reading went well together, giving the book a mystical edge. The novel was well executed and I felt as if Cate had put as much thought into the character’s back-story and endgame as she did with the plot.
Overall, the novel itself is not unique because it features a transgender protagonist, but because it succeeds in creating a well written plot filled with a great romance and even greater adventure. I will definitely be reading more from this author.
Simren is an 18 year old student with a passion for reading and a glutton for romance, adventure and wit. She writes as much as possible in her free time, be it journalism, fiction or reviews.
Find her on twitter @Simren2105, or drop a comment down below.
Read our interview with Shannon LC Cate here!