cover image Crazy Jack

Crazy Jack

Donna Jo Napoli. Delacorte Press Books for Young Readers, $15.95 (144pp) ISBN 978-0-385-32627-8

Revisiting Jack and the Beanstalk, Napoli (Spinners) makes the plot bleaker but the message inspirational--an uneasy mix that reduces rather than expands the impact of the familiar story. Jack is nine when his father gambles away the family farm and later accidentally steps off a cliff to his death. The narrative then skips ahead seven years. Jack batters himself unconscious in a yearly attempt to climb that same cliff; it is to his madness that his mother attributes his famous exchange of their cow for magic beans. As in Beneduce and Spirin's version (see their Jack and the Beanstalk, reviewed above), this giant is complicit in Jack's father's death, but there are a number of innovations. Jack hopes to win back the love of his childhood sweetheart, Flora, whose purity stands in sharp contrast to the woman in the giant's castle, here a lascivious sort who cares more for riches than for freedom. Much is made of following one's dreams: e.g., the fairy who gives Jack the magic beans urges him to stay true to his love of farming. The stolen treasures lose their luxury once Jack comes back to earth--the hen (no, not a goose) remains a prolific layer but of ordinary (not golden) eggs, the lyre becomes an instrument for Jack (""I play a freedom song for the woman of the castle""). It is no surprise when Flora leaves her materialistic suitor for Jack with his good values. Napoli has made an odd trade of her own, swapping the boundlessness of archetypal fantasy for a touch of piety. Ages 12-up. (Oct.)