Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Review: The Death of Jacob Track by Natasha Gilbert



Jacob Track is back from the dead, and he’s looking for answers. He saw her blue eyes, her blonde hair - he knows it was her - and what he wouldn’t do to get his hands on her… But what happens when you know the truth that no one else does? How to do you cope with knowing who did it when the whole town believes he committed suicide? And what happens when the people you think you can trust turn out to be the worst kind of evil?

How would you go on?

The Death of Jacob Track by Natasha Gilbert explores the human condition in ways one would never expect to see from a book with an outwardly typical murder-mystery appearance (with the exception of the whole being undead tidbit, of course). In reality, The Death of Jacob Track is a book that defies all expectations; with every flip of the page, the reader becomes progressively tangled up in spectacle and deception. With it’s third-person omniscient point-of-view and nonlinear storyline, this book is fast-paced, heart-stopping, and manipulative in it’s own right. Characters one once believed to be genuine no longer feel right. What the reader thinks happened may not have actually happened at all, even if the character witnessed it with his or her own eyes. Nothing about this book is trustworthy… and that is the absolute beauty of it.

The Death of Jacob Track, the first installment of the 33x series, primarily focuses on group of well-liked high school students among other family and friends of the dearly deceased. Their complex spider web of relationships with one another and their perplexing inner-thoughts -courtesy of convenient omniscience- only sweetens the mystery behind Jacob Track’s true death. Narrative credibility is continually questioned and tested throughout the novel as new developments arise and true intentions are revealed. The Death of Jacob Track is one of those books that cannot be put down until the latest twist presented is resolved.


Now that the novel has been properly introduced, I’d like to cut the formalities. The Death of Jacob Track is a book that kept me on my toes for hours. And by hours, I mean it only took me that long to read, considering the plot had the pace of a speeding race horse (and yes, that’s a good thing in this case)! If I’m remembering correctly, we follow our group of teens through their sophomore, junior, and senior year of high school, making three years of whoa-wait-what?! And all in 350-ish pages!

I’ve gotta say, those three W’s really describe my reactions while reading this book. The plot twists, the character development, and even the some of the subtle details of it all made me stop and think about how these events might pertain to the mystery as a whole. Mystery, however, isn’t exactly how I would categorize this book. Sure, mystery is definitely a large part of what makes this book great, but -without giving too much away- I feel as though there are trace elements of sci-fi; perhaps even dystopian, if you look at it in the right light. The Death of Jacob Track is one of those books that’s difficult to tie down and examine. There’s so much to analyze, yet so little information given. It’s a very strange paradox, but it definitely keeps me wanting more. Guess I’ll just have to wait for the second book in the series then, eh?

If I had to compare this book to anything (which is very difficult, mind you), I’d have to say this is an odd lovechild of Rick Yancey’s The Fifth Wave and Robert Louis Stevenson’s Strange Case of Dr.Jekyll and Mr.Hyde. Nobody is quite who they say they are, whether they’re hiding themselves purposefully or whether they’ve been conditioned. Something has infected them: changed them deep in their personalities. Their memories are fabricated, their feelings have been manipulated… and someone they thought they could trust has been behind it the whole time.

Now, I can hear you saying to yourself, “But what about the bad stuff, Sarah? Surely this book can’t be perfect?” And to that, I say; “You’re most definitely right.” This book isn’t perfect. Then again, is any book -with the exception of One Hundred Years of Solitude- truly perfect? I digress, The Death of Jacob Track has a few flaws that I’d like to just point out and get out of the way for anyone interested in reading.

I have absolutely no problems with the pace of this book, nor do I have any qualms with the point of view; however, convenience tends to be a bit of an issue. There were a couple key plot points that seemed a bit too contrived to be realistic. For example, a well-hidden lever to a secret chamber is stumbled upon on a hunch. To me, having a suspicious hunch about a very inconspicuous object for no reason other than “why not?” is a bit too… well… easy for me! It felt like the author was forcing the story to the juicy parts - which I can totally relate to - it just didn’t make for quality believability.

Besides the minor grammatical and syntax errors here and there, The Death of Jacob Track is a fairly well-written book. I feel as though the writing could have been jazzed up a bit here and there, and jazzed down a bit in others (specifically cutting a good portion of character’s physical descriptions, as after a while they do get a bit redundant), however, as a whole the book was well balanced and made it’s point. I can totally appreciate that.

I can also appreciate how Gilbert takes the time to describe mental illness from a whole new perspective. One of our characters, Zacchya Packers, suffers from major clinical depression and suicidal tendencies. It’s interesting how we observe her journey from a very personal and intimate perspective, while also maintaining distance through other characters. It truly showcases how mental illness is interpreted individually, and there is no true way to handle situations of that breed. It’s all about perception and reaction.

Now, who should read this book? The Death of Jacob Track explores a lot of ideas and controversial issues that many authors are a bit hesitant to touch on. This is definitely an interesting read for those who are struggling to cope with mental illness, however, I feel this book would be better fitted for a science-fiction buff. This book makes you question the fine line that separates ethics and experimentation. It also sings to any psychology majors out there.


Being quite lucky, I actually discovered The Death of Jacob Track through the author herself. Natasha and I met a few years back at a Gerard Way concert, believe it or not! We’ve since kept tabs on each other through social media - hence how I found out about her first novel! Having not known about her writing endeavours, it came as a pleasant surprise to me. Of course, I wanted to support a fellow aspiring author by purchasing her book and giving it a thorough read… and here I am!

Natasha was kind enough to speak with me about her book and let me pick apart her brain a bit. The following exchange occurred on Friday, May 26th, 2017.

S: So I have to ask, because it is a running question in my creative writing community, are you a plotter, or a pantser? In other words, do you sit down and plot everything out before you write or do you just let the writing take you where it may?

N: I’m normally a plotter; however, when I started this book, it just kind of came up out the seat of my pants… [The book] took forever to write, by the way. I now have a plan for book two (which I’ve finished), and book three (which I’ve started).

S: I was just about to ask you about the progress of your second book! How long did it take you to finished the first and second books?

N: A year and a half for both. I mean… each one took a year and a half a piece, so three years for the first two.

S: That’s dedication! Is it just you that writes, edits, and publishes your work, or do you work with anyone else?

N: I worked with a company called Book Fuel. They helped edit and publish it.

S: In your book, we are presented with a very close-knit gang of well-liked high-schoolers ironically named “The Misfits”. Their relationships with one another and their personalities are quite interlocking and complex. Would you say that the process of developing these characters was difficult, or were they perhaps based off of anyone in the real world?

N: Some of them are very loosely based off of people I know. [Each character is based off of] either one person or a few people. But some of the characters, like Zacchya, I had a light picture in my head of what I wanted her to be. But it’s weird how you think a character is going to turn out and it’s like the character itself tells you “that’s not how it happened” or “I wouldn’t do that”. It sounds crazy but it’s like they want to make sure their story is told.

S: Lastly, an ongoing theme in your book is coping with loss and mental illness. Would you say the implementation of such subjects was more-less a device for plot progression, or were you attempting to reach out to your audience through your character’s struggles, perhaps?

N: Well I know that a lot of people struggle with depression and mental illness. I’ve had some light depression in my life as well, however, nowhere near as strong as my characters. It’s something that needs light shed upon it. It’s a real issue. I worked in a mental hospital for four years. Some of it kind of rubbed off [on my work]. The character that caused Zacchya issues in [the mental hospital], Terrible Theresa, was based on a real person. She was a nightmare. I make her sound better than she really is.

S: Well kudos to you for being so strong-willed! It’s awesome that you’re providing your readers with such relatable characters. Thank you so much for speaking with me!

N: Oh, yeah! This has been super fun!

My point? I’d say this book is definitely worth a read. In all of my years of reading, and in all of the two hundred or so books that I’ve read over the past two years, I can’t say that I’ve read anything quite like The Death of Jacob Track.

Give it a go.


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