Cover Image: The Decomposition of Jack

The Decomposition of Jack

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Member Reviews

Thank you to netgalley and the publisher for granting me free access to the advanced digital copy of this book.

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The Decomposition of Jack is a very well written middle grade chapter book by Kristin O'Donnell Tubb. Released 11 Oct 2022 by HarperCollins on their Children's imprint, it's 208 pages and is available in hardcover, audio, and ebook formats. It's worth noting that the ebook format has a handy interactive table of contents as well as interactive links and references throughout. I've really become enamored of ebooks with interactive formats lately.

The author has created an engaging and poignant tale about a boy navigating his life whilst being known to his peers as the "Roadkill Kid", because he helps his mom with her scientific research on decomposition and environmental impact by collecting roadkill and observing the decomposition process in their backyard. At the same time, he's trying to find his way amidst the fallout from his parents' recent divorce, make progress in school, and have some sort of social life.

The author writes believably about being an awkward, slightly nerdy kid in an unforgiving social situation. She doesn't sugar coat how cruel kids can be to one another, or how clueless and self absorbed adults can be either. Additionally, she's included a wealth of really interesting conservation themed info about the life-death-life process and how the natural environment works. She has included a useful and interesting resource/links list at the end of the book for further reading.

Four stars. Very well done; sort of grossly fascinating in some places. 12 year old me would've been utterly enraptured by this book. It would make a good choice for public or school library acquisition, home or classroom use.

Disclosure: I received an ARC at no cost from the author/publisher for review purposes.

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The Decomposition of Jack by Kristin O'Donnell Tubb is a great middle-grade read about...roadkill! Yes, but it is more, it is meaningful and explores the topics of divorce and death in an age appropriate way.

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A fresh take on death? Nah, that’s too broad a thought. This story is an extended metaphor of early-teenage life, divorce, and roadkill. The premise was really interesting and the first person narration felt authentic to an upper middle school kid. While reading this sort, meaningful story I found myself slipping into teacher mode, wanting to hear student thoughts and connections to Jack. I read this as an Advanced Reader’s Copy from Harper Collins via NetGalley and if given the chance would add this to my physical shelf on the campus I work at so that I could but this unique perspective on a typical premise into early-teenage hands.

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Like Tubbs’ Daisy, Zeus and Luna books, animals abound in The Decomposition of Jack. Unlike the books about canines, most of the animals in “Jack” are dead…except for an elusive cougar who inserts herself into Jack’s world and makes a difference. Roadkill is the work of Jack’s parents as they study the decomposition of animals and its stages and effect on the environment. Not only does that result in school nicknames like Jack Splat, but now, his father is missing from the family picture. In this first person narrative, Jack equates parts of his life to the stages and effects of decomposition in order to process the stages and struggles typical for many middle schoolers: missing parent, slipping grades, a crush on a girl in his class, new responsibilities, a change in financial situation, and annoying classmates. The parallels that the author makes are clear and because they involve dead animals and rotting flesh, are sure to grab the attention of even the most reluctant of readers. Characters are clear and distinct, providing ample opportunities for teachers to do character mapping and discussion of changes over time. Plenty of science is blended into the plot teaching students but in a way that does not feel heavy-handed. Even photography tips are included as Jack attempts to capture proof of the existence of a supposedly non-existent cougar presence in Tennessee. Jack’s poetic oral report on the cougar is wonderful and could be used during science or ELA lessons! In fact, the book would make an excellent cross-curricular choice when Science is working on Earth Science or Biology lessons on ecosystems, food webs, etc. Excellent choice for libraries serving students grades 5-8.

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Jack is known at the Roadkill Kid. His mother is a scientist who studies roadkill. Yes, there really are scientists who study this. It’s an important science that can guide decisions, such as the placement of wildlife crossings, which increase safety for both humans and animals.

Jack and his mother collect road-killed animals and bring them to their huge yard, where they document the stages of decomposition of the carcasses. Jack assists his mother with data collection because his parents recently got divorced and his mother needs to keep her research grant. For a school project, Jack must pick an animal and give a presentation on it. He recently became interested in cougars after finding a 4-inch footprint near his fence and seeing what he thought was a large cat.

School life can be difficult for a kid known as the Roadkill Kid, so some of the story deals with how he interacts with a bully at school, as well as with his best friend, who draws zombie cartoons. There is also a girl he really likes, Zoe. As he learns more about cougars, he finds more clues to the presence of one near his home, a tuft of fur, a deer carcass dragged to the fence, a buried scat, claw marks on a tree. He wants a trail camera so he can try to photograph the mystery cat.

The theme of decomposition is used throughout the book. Jack compares his interactions with others to the stages of decomposition. He is having some difficulty adjusting to the separation of his parents, and thoughts of failing science class at school.

I loved how they named the carcasses and used the names on the data sheets. I also thought the elements of the cougar sighting and documentation were well-done. Cougars are not native in the state, but some have moved through there and have been documented, so the information presented is accurate. The tracks and sign that Jack finds are also accurate, which I can attest to as a professional tracker. The only thing is that a female cougar would have a track smaller than 4 inches. It would be 3 inches or a bit more. But, that’s no big deal. The other signs were described accurately, and I liked how the author presented them one at a time, as would happen if one was looking for evidence of the animal in real life.

I also enjoyed Jack’s presentation, and the style he chose for it was just great. The story was well-done and explores multiple themes. It should appeal to young adult readers. I think it’s great to depict a young adult interested in science and wildlife. We need more students to enter those career fields. This book is fantastic, and I recommend it. Five stars!

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This title by Kristin O'Donnell Tubb is tender, funny, and just the right amount of weird. Jack's struggles to share his inner world will resonate with both the intended middle-grade audience and the adults who love them, and the metaphors found in decomposition are well-articulated by Tubb, whose prose is always honest, never forced. Anyone who's ever grieved an ending or dreaded a beginning will appreciate this gem of a novel. Loved this one!

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Jack is dealing with a lot. He is made fun of because he is often seen collecting road kill with his mother, which she studies. His parents are recently divorced and father is away and he has a school project that is causing him stress. I thought the story and characters were well developed. They use the idea of decomposistion, death and moving on to talk about the tranisitions we face in life. The roadkill has an ick factor for me, but I think kids will be okay with it. Not sure if it's for list, but it could use another read.

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With thanks to NetGalley and the publisher for an early copy in return for an honest review.

An engaging middle grades book that hits just the right amount of teasing at school (definitely felt like what you'd hear in a school - roadkill kid), great introduction to having a crush, the emotions of having parents go through divorce, and great science connections. I can see kids using this as a springboard to research cougars and also how roadkill is being used instead of just being put into landfills.

Note, that sensitive readers may not like some of decomposition descriptions or what happens to one of the animals they find on the side of the road.

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Jack is an expert at decomposition thanks to his mother's research in environmental science. What he is grappling with, however, is decomposition of another sort, as his parents' marriage is ending.
This is a funny, insightful, and oddly informative read that appeals on so many levels! A genuinely fun book that handles heavier themes of death and loss with a brilliantly light touch.

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A great Middle School book that deals with Science, girl/boy relationships and divorce. It’s a fast pace book where the reader can feel the confusion the main character is going through. I just wished there was more depth on the character development. Overall, a good book.

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Middle school is hard enough without giving easy ways for kids to bully you. It’s hard not to be known as the Roadkill Kid when your mother collects roadkill as part of her job. Add in his parent’s divorce, his father moving away, and now a cougar that people don’t believe is there, and Jack’s problems can seem insurmountable. Don’t forget about the deadline for his major science research project.

Kristin O’Donnell has perfectly balanced so many things in The Decomposition of Jack. With gross humor and science, a likeable main character going through a lot, the plight of an animal, and some people that Jack collects along the way (it’s not all about collecting roadkill), this book is likely to appeal to a large range of middle grade readers. I plan on using it with my tween book club.

Disclaimer: An advance copy was provided by HarperCollins Children’s Books.

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Thanks to the publisher and NetGalley for the eARC.

So many truths in this book.

Truth #1: Not from experience but always seems to be so, divorce is hard for everyone involved. It seems like something dying and decaying and rotting away from what it previously was.

Truth #2: There is a lot of roadkill. The author put stats about it in her author’s notes at the end of the book. A lot of it ends up in landfills but it serves lots of purposes. Scientists study it. Fresh enough it can feed the hungry. All interesting but still gross.

Truth #3: There is a way to heal, to start fresh, new growth after the decay process.

Tubb’s characters once again jump off the page. Her voice is truly unique and shines through in the many different characters she has created over the years. What never falters in all of her books I have read is the unique perspective and facts that she provides to make her readers feel seen and valued.

I will unabashedly recommend this book to my readers.

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I can safely say I have never read a middle-grade book that dealt with roadkill. But in her typical style, Kristin O'Donnell Tubb makes us care about the topic through the characters and their passion. I am already thinking of a few students I know will love it. Can't wait to get it in their hands.

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Jack’s parents have divorced and he now has to help mom scrape roadkill off the roads so she can process it for a grant she received to study wildlife. When Jack sees a cougar in a tree he decides he wants a trail camera to prove he saw it. He also decides to use the cougar as his Science project. Jack is told that cougars “represent taking control of your life. They also represent courage, strength, and wisdom.” Does Jack have the self-confidence and courage to tell his mom he wants to see his dad more and also not have to spend so much time helping her with the roadkill because he’s sick of the death and dying?

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