Jumping the Scratch

I liked So B. It, the author's most recent middle-grade novel, very much, so I had high hopes for Jumping the Scratch. It's a quick read and a mostly enjoyable one, though I found myself closing the book with a decidedly lackluster "huh."

Jamie has had a rough life: his father skipped town, his cat died, and his mother uprooted him to live with their amnesia-stricken aunt in a trailer park. And there's one more thing -- a secret so shameful to Jamie that he can't even think about it.

Jumping the Scratch tackles a slew of heavy themes: sexual abuse, memory, loss, friendship, and self-esteem. For the most part, it's accessible and carefully paced, never heavy-handed. But I couldn't help feeling that the hard issues were all on the surface, that a certain breeziness permeated the novel and kept me from feeling the weight of Jamie's abuse fully. Jamie is a likable kid, but the secondary characters seemed a bit stock: his horrid, cruel teacher; his overworked, unsympathetic mother; the precocious kid Audrey, whose claims of ESP eventually help Jamie unlock the memories that make him ashamed. Only Sapphy, Jamie's once-vibrant, now brain-damaged aunt, is more richly drawn, and even her eventual recovery felt a bit convenient.

Don't get me wrong: I liked the novel as I was reading it, and I would recommend it to good intermediate readers. But I couldn't help feeling like the author could've done more with the story.

Jumping the Scratch by Sarah Weeks. Geringer/HarperCollins, 2006. 176 pages.

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