Heavy Medal Finalist: JUST LIKE JACKIE by Lindsey Stoddard
Our Heavy Medal long list contains quite a few heavy hitters. We have some beautifully written fantasy epics, some brilliantly designed biographies, some timely themed realistic fiction novels, and one quiet little book by the most decorated Newbery author of our generation. How can JUST LIKE JACKIE, a coming-of-age story about a scrappy young girl determined to keep her family together, written by debut author Lindsey Stoddard, stand out among these powerhouses?
Let’s start with JUST LIKE JACKIE’s biggest strength, Robbie’s voice. Robbie is tough and fierce. She’s that kid in class that drives you crazy, but you can’t help but love her because she’s so smart and witty at the same time. Plus she’s endearing. She’s become her caretaker’s caretaker much sooner than she should have and this has made her defensive and guarded for fear of being found out and taken away from him.
I don’t know what my core is made of except maybe Grandpa’s one-quarter, but it’s not all syrupy sweet, that’s for sure. It’s not like the center of a perfect sugar maple. It’s tight like a knotted piece of firewood, gnarled and hard to chop through.
Getting readers to care about a stubborn character is no small feat but Stoddard accomplishes this with figurative language that feels effortlessly written and reads true to Robbie’s character. It’s writerly for sure, but doesn’t feel writerly coming from Robbie. It’s maple trees and car repairs and baseball. When she’s watching Alex, a bully, break down in front of her:
I want to laugh and point and say Who’s tough now? but all I can do is stare because it’s like watching a high-class, fully loaded BMW break down literally right in front of you. Lost brakes, locked steering wheel, wild swerving, and flat tires on wobbly rims. It’s pathetic.
When Robbie struggles with deciding whether or not to come clean about her troubles taking care of her grandpa or not:
I want to tell Harold about how Grandpa wandered away Friday night and almost got lost up in the woods. And how I think Grandpa’s check engine light is on and I don’t know how to figure out what’s wrong. But I hope it’s something as easy as a missing gas cap. And that we can get a new one, on the house, and drive off all fixed.
When she and Alex share a moment near the end of the novel:
Alex nods like he gets it, and I think he does. And I think I do too. Sometimes people feel so bad they want to make others feel worse. And sometimes people can be so angry at something inside that it spurts out everywhere, like a high-pressure radiator leak.
I think this style of narrative is very fitting for child readers and distinguished in the sense that it’s not easy to pull off. I think it is more sensible in its approach for a child audience than something like HEY, KIDDO by Jarrett J. Krosoczka, which is also on our long list and which is also about a child being raised by grandparents.
There are strengths to this beside lovable Robbie’s voice however. Its Vermont setting is fully realized with details like sap harvesting from maple trees and the inclusive school setting. Its secondary characters, from Robinson’s grandfather, to Harold and Paul, to the bully Alex, to all the school professionals that reach out to support Robbie, all have purpose and appropriate depth for a book of this nature. Its message of family and acceptance is well earned too.
Readers of Heavy Medal this season will know that I made no secret about this title being at the top of my ballot. I believe it’s a tightly constructed book with a lot of heart and a great voice and it compares nicely to some of the other well distinguished works published this year.
Introduction by Mr. H
We now invite further comments from Heavy Medal Committee members and from all other readers. We will start with positive comments, as usual. We’ll open it up to negative comment as well at 12:00 noon Eastern (3:00 Pacific). This is a change in procedure: previously Roxanne or I would announce that broader discussion is fine with a post in the comments; from now on, consider 12:00 noon Eastern the standard time for open discussion.
Filed under: Book Discussion
About Steven Engelfried
Steven Engelfried was the Library Services Manager at the Wilsonville Public Library in Oregon until he retired after 35 years as a full-time librarian. He served on the 2010 Newbery committee, chaired the 2013 Newbery Committee, and also served on the 2002 Caldecott committee. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
SLJ Blog Network