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Jumping the Scratch: Sarah Weeks

I'd seen some reviews of Jumping the Scratch floating around, and when I saw it in the library, I decided to check it out. I can't compare it with Sarah Weeks' previous book, the acclaimed So B. It, because I haven't read that one yet. But I found it to be a quick, engrossing read, tackling dark issues with a relatively light touch.

Jamie is a fifth grader at Pine Tree Elementary in Traverse City, Michigan. Jamie had a nice, "regular as corn flakes" life in Battle Creek until a recent patch of bad luck. His beloved cat, Mister, died. His father "took off with a cashier from MicroMart." Then Jamie and his mother had to move to Traverse City to live in a trailer with his Aunt Sapphy, who was seriously injured in a freak accident at the cherry factory.

Due to her injury, Sapphy's memory has developed a "scratch". She recalls old memories from before the accident, but can't make any new ones. Every day she has to be told about the accident again, and about why Jamie and his Mom are living with her now. She drives her irritable visiting caretaker crazy by never remembering the woman. Here is Jamie's description of post-accident Sapphy:

"After the accident she still said funny things, but it wasn't the same. She wasn't the same. Her eyes didn't sparkle; they were flat and dull, like the eyes of the bluegills my father and I brought home from the pond on the stringer. And when I talked, even though she still listened, she didn't tilt her head to the side like a crow anymore. She couldn't really hear me, at least not the way she used to." (page 41)

As for Jamie, rather than trying to remember, he has an incident that he's trying to forget. This undisclosed incident haunts him, and keeps him from adjusting to his new life in Traverse City. He gets picked on, doesn't participate in class, is looked down upon by his teacher, and has no friends. He doesn't trust anyone outside of his family. His prickly, odd behavior makes him an outcast. Even when two different people (a visiting author, and a girl who lives in the same trailer park) reach out to Jamie, he pushes them away.

It becomes clear very early in the book that something bad happened to Jamie, something about which he feels guilty and ashamed. The broad strokes of what happened will be clear to the adult reader very early in the book, though the details emerge more gradually. Hopefully younger readers will remain in suspense for longer. When the trauma does come, it's handled delicately, in a non-scary fashion. I think that this book could provide an excellent opportunity for parents to discuss what is and isn't appropriate adult/child behavior with their kids.

I thought that Jumping the Scratch was well-written, though there are a few flaws. A couple of the characters are a touch stereotypical (especially the class suck-up Mary Lynne, and Jamie's unsympathetic teacher). The ending is a bit too neat, though kids will likely find it satisfying.

On the plus side, I did enjoy the character of the visiting author. I think that just reading about his interactions with Jamie's class could encourage fledgling writers, and even inspire kids who don't yet realize that they are fledgling writers. Aunt Sapphy's disability is shown with some humor, but mostly with compassion. As for Jamie and his eventual friend Audrey, they are prickly and quirky, and definitely have their faults, but this makes them feel real. Jumping the Scratch addresses some difficult topics (divorce, abuse, brain damage, bullying), yet remains accessible and lightened by flashes of humor. I recommend it.

Book: Jumping the Scratch
Author: Sarah Weeks
Publisher: Laura Geringer Books (Harper Collins)
Original Publication Date: April 2006
Pages: 167
Age Range: 9-12
Source of Book: Santa Clara City Library
Other Blog Reviews: Gemini Moon, A Fuse #8 Production, Book Bits, Booktopia, emilyreads, MotherReader

© 2009 by Jennifer Robinson of Jen Robinson's Book Page. All rights reserved.