CM . . .
. Volume XX Number 41. . . .June 20, 2014
Jacky the Brave.
Renfrew, ON: General Store Publishing House, 2013.
151 pp., trade pbk., epub, mobi & pdf, $20.00 (pbk.).
ISBN 978-1-77123-053-7 (pbk.), ISBN 978-1-77123-115-2 (epub), ISBN 978-1-77123-116-9 (mobi), ISBN 978-1-77123-117-6 (pdf).
Grades 5-8 / Ages 10-13.
Review by Stacey Matson.
His dad closed the atlas and looked him straight in the eye. “Listen to me, old son, and I’ll explain. Your ancestors came from Scotland to this country over two hundred years ago, but they brought their traditions from home and their family pride. It was important to my parents that I learned to play the bagpipes and wear the tartan like any good Scot, so I did. I played in a pipe band in Nova Scotia.”
“You played music?” Something else Jacky didn’t know.
“Sure, the bagpipes, the tin whistle, and some guitar.”
“I didn’t know that. Where are they now?”
“Not who, what. Where are the bagpipes?”
“I don’t know. Probably went to another member of the family, a cousin somewhere. We only owned one set.”
“How come you never told me you played music?”
“I don’t know. Never came up, I guess. Didn’t realize it was important to you.” His dad returned to his box of pictures and started picking through them. Jacky looked again, more closely, at the fourteen-year-old version of his dad. He looked proud, not embarrassed, to wear that crazy outfit. Jacky wouldn’t be caught dead wearing a kilt. He didn’t know what bagpipes sounded like but, judging from the look of them, they weren’t easy to play. And Jacky thought the clarinet was hard.
Jacky thought he was ready for junior high. Up until now, everything has gone great; he got good marks, his best friend Lenny was always around, and he was awesome at his favourite video games. But everything has changed. He’s failing at shop, swamped with homework, embarrassing himself in band, and even Lenny seems to be drifting away. And just when Jacky thought things couldn’t get worse, his mom gets really sick, and Jacky’s responsibilities start to become overwhelming. When Jacky feels like there’s no one to turn to, he decides that it’s time to find courage and strength from a new, unexpected place – his family’s past.
Jacky the Brave, Jim Sellers’ first novel, is geared towards a pre-teen audience. The novel addresses the challenges of a new school and growing up, but with a focus on family history and the importance of understanding and celebrating your own heritage, a theme that isn’t explored in a lot of YA novels.
In the first few pages, the book covers a lot of time, skimming the surface of events in Jacky’s and Lenny’s grade six year and summer. The quick pace and superficial content continues; Sellers barrels through Jacky’s first year in junior high in the first 70 pages of the book. It felt a lot like a synopsis of a year before the story even starts, and I had a lot of trouble relating to Jacky and his struggles, even the major ones he faced, like his mother passing away and the slow decline of his friendship with Lenny. Sellers tries to cover many emotions and events, but the speed in which they pass in the book didn’t allow for time to empathize with the characters. As soon as one thing happened, it seemed to be totally over and the story moved on, sometimes covering months in a short page or two. Any struggle or complication between Jacky and his family is solved quickly and positively. Jacky seems very adult in his decision-making and how he approaches challenges. It rang false to me, and I wanted to feel Jacky’s struggle to balance the very grown-up situation he ended up in with the strong emotions of still wanting to be a regular teenager. In the first half of the book, I craved more from Jacky’s perspective about how he felt about some events in his life, instead of a number of quick paragraphs about each life event, like how he had the best summer ever or his troubles with his aunt.
That said, halfway through the novel, Sellers slows down the pace of the book and begins to focus in on a specific problem. When Jacky and his father begin to drift apart again, Jacky feels like he needs to do something to win his father back. This moment when Jacky begins his quest to play the bagpipes was when I finally engaged with the storyline and began to empathize with Jacky and his struggles. Sellers seems to find his groove, and he leaves behind trying to cover every event in Jacky’s life and, instead, focuses on one part and how it is affected by the surrounding events. By the end of the novel, I wanted to see Jacky succeed, and Sellers delivers a satisfying conclusion.
Overall, Sellers tries to wrap every junior high milestone into one novel. Because of this, Jacky the Brave suffers from problems of momentum and reader engagement in the first half, but dedicated readers will be rewarded with a stronger second half and an ending that is touching without being cloying.
Stacey Matson is a writer living in Vancouver, BC. She recently finished her MA in children’s literature at the University of British Columbia, and her first children’s novel comes out in September 2014.
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