Book Review: The Decomposition of Jack by Kristin O’Donnell Tubb

Title: The Decomposition of Jack

Author: Kristin O’Donnell Tubb

Genre: Realistic Middle Grade Fiction

Number of Pages: 208

Rating: B-

Recommended?: Yes

A very simple middle grade coming-of-age story that nevertheless turned out to be educational for this adult reader, teaching me about a career I didn’t even know existed. Jack gets called names at school because he helps his mom scrape dead animals off the road and section them off in their yard to decompose.

Jack loves his mom but is sick of being called ‘roadkill boy.’ His parents are divorced, and he rarely sees his father, mostly because his mom seems to want to keep him to herself. It was nice to get something a bit more nuanced than just the ‘Dad’s a total deadbeat’ storyline.

One night, Jack sees a mountain lion that is supposedly extinct in Tennessee, and he becomes fascinated with capturing footage of it. He feels a certain affinity for it and uses it for his school project, trying to find proof of an elusive animal that was supposed to have died out in his region years ago.

This story is cute. There’s nothing unforgettable about it, and the characters are fairly basic for middle grade fiction. I enjoyed the relationship between Jack and his mom and seeing him learn to advocate for himself. The book has no true villains, just a lack of communication for just about everyone involved. The school bully is mean but very manageable, having nothing at his disposal except for rude names and taunts towards Jack for being ‘different.’

I had no idea that studying roadkill was considered a viable field of science, and that doing so has important ecological benefits. I mostly just thought it was something serial killers did and maybe the occasional oddball (like Mr. Summers in All the Little Animals,) and I’m kind of wowed that anybody would want to do it as a living. I did tire of the constant ‘decomposition’ and ‘roadkill’ metaphors, like how Jack felt like ‘stage two in the putrefaction process’ or whatever.

It seemed odd that he’d make all these comparisons when he didn’t even seem like he was that into his mom’s work, and the repetition of it felt forced and made me cringe after a while. Not every simile and metaphor has to involve a bloated rotten corpse, which is a sentence you don’t hear every day, especially about middle grade lit. Regardless, the author did a good job at taking something that isn’t portrayed very often in any kind of book and making it accessible to young readers, suggesting some non-fiction books for further reading on the subject in her afterward.


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