Recommended for ages 8-12
Lots of kids have Secrets in this story, but Jack’s got a really big Secret: his dad is Death. Like, THE Death. He tends to keep to himself until the day his best friend, Booger Reynolds, is eaten by a troll – that sets him off. He’s determined to find out how the troll escaped its enclosure, and ends up making a friend along the way: his neighbor, Nadine, who’s got a pretty big Secret of her own. Together, the two stumble upon a high-level conspiracy to kill off half their town’s residents in this hilarious, morbid, and compulsively readable debut by M.L. Windsor.
Jack Death takes place in a supernatural world where many of the residents are supernatural hybrids, belonging to either Golden or Black bloodlines. Golden bloodlines are descended from cutesy types like fairies and pixies, while Black bloodlines are descended from less desirable creatures, like ogres and trolls. Jack and Nadine are both great middle grade characters: very likable, adventurous, and with big secrets that they struggle with. Being Death’s son, Jack doesn’t have any manifested powers to speak of, but the Grim Reapers that only he can see seem to be concerned about him and drop hints that Death is holding onto a pretty big Secret of his own about his son. The omniscient narrator – Jack’s Guardian Reaper – is morbidly funny, reminding me of Roald Dahl with a twist of Lemony Snicket. The conspiracy to kill off the Goldenbloods uncomfortably parallels the Holocaust, including a roundup of the town’s Goldenbloods, herding them into a darkened warehouse to meet their fate. The story is a smart parable about genocide and racism with important side discussions about bullying, friendship, and keeping secrets. The ending leaves me hopeful that there will be a sequel; I enjoyed meeting these characters and would love to see them in action as they develop into adolescents. Most of the diversity in this book covers the two bloodlines, but there is a reference to Nadine and her dad being of Asian descent.
Jack Death is a fun middle grade novel that will open up some good discussions. I’d booktalk this and display it with the Series of Unfortunate Events series; throw in some David Walliams and Roald Dahl to talk about dry humor, too.