Jumping the Scratch
Release Date: December 26, 2007
Buy the Book: Amazon, IndieBound
Jamie Reardon has always heard that bad things come in threes. So after his cat Mister dies, his father leaves, and his aunt Sapphy has an accident that causes her memory to develop a skip, Jamie hopes his life will go back to being as normal as cornflakes. But unfortunately there’s one more bad thing in store for Jamie—something he’d give anything to be able to forget—and this one leaves him feeling like a stranger to himself. Jamie tries in vain to find the magic trigger that will help Sapphy’s memory jump the scratch, like the needle on her favorite Frank Sinatra record, but in the end it’s Aunt Sapphy who, along with a curious girl named Audrey Krouch, helps Jamie unravel the mysteries of memory and jump the scratch in his own life.
Also available on CD: “Tony Award-winning Stephen Spinella reveals his storytelling talent as he gives voice to young Jamie Reardon, whom he portrays as an introspective loner.”- 3 hours/3 compact discs. Unabridged from Audiobooks.
Praise and Honors
“… readers will care about the characters and applaud their well-deserved triumphs.”
“Touches of humor ameliorate the pain and poignancy. Another winner from the author of So B. It.”
(Click on the image to see an enlargement)
I’ve been fascinated with memory for a long time. Why is it that we remember certain things and not others? Why are some people able to remember complicated equations, while other people, like me for instance, are incapable of remembering their own phone numbers sometimes? I’m not sure I’m any closer to understanding the mysteries of memory now than I was before I wrote Jumping the Scratch, but I really enjoyed spending time thinking about it.
Originally the title of the book was “Visiting Arthur”, and the focus of the story was going to be about a relationship between a boy who has a secret he’s afraid to reveal, and a writer who helps him find the courage and the voice to tell his story. Being an author-in-residence is something I know quite a lot about. I spend many weeks every year traveling around the country doing author visits in schools and I’ve been referred to as the “Arthur” more times than I can count. Some of the lessons that Arthur teaches at Pittsfield Elementary School are the actual lessons I have taught in classrooms myself. But in the end, the story took on a life of its own and it became less about Arthur and more about Jamie and the important friendships he has with Audrey Krouch and his favorite aunt, Sapphy.
Giving Sapphy amnesia gave me an excuse to explore that interesting quirk of memory a little. It also provided a satisfying balance between Jamie, who wants so badly to be able to forget, and Sapphy who, because of her accident at the cherry factory, can’t form new memories, and as a result is like a record with a scratch, unable to move forward. Thinking about it in that way helped me to find the title for the book – Jumping the Scratch.
I decided to set the book in Northern Michigan because that’s where I spent all my summers. I remember buying cherries at the roadside stands and my sister Jane and me rolling down the rear windows of the car so we could spit the pits out as my dad drove us home. Although I grew up in Michigan, and my best friend’s name was Audrey, Jumping the Scratch is a fictional story. I’ve never known anybody personally who had amnesia, and what happened to Jamie is not something that ever happened to me.
When I was researching hypnotism for the scene where Audrey Krouch hypnotizes Jamie, I took several books out of the library. I asked my then 14 year-old son, Natty if I could try one of the exercises on him, and much to my surprise he said okay. I didn’t try anything fancy like planting a post-hypnotic suggestion or anything like that, but he said when it was over he felt incredibly relaxed. I let him try it on me, and I had a hard time not laughing –later I used that idea for Jamie in the book.
Jumping the Scratch touches on some very sensitive subjects. Here are some responses from teachers I’ve met who have included the book in their classroom curriculums.
“As a Library media specialist, I feel that it is crucial to make books available to students that reflect real life situations – no matter how painful they may be. Young children have faced difficult and traumatic events in their lives and can often feel very alone in their reality. Reading a book such as Jumping the Scratch can give that one child the courage it takes to come forward. The topic of abuse was very gently handled in this book. Will it lead to questions? Perhaps. But it will also open up lines of communication to subjects that aren’t easy to talk about but which are REAL. I commend Sarah Weeks for dealing with tough issues and doing it with honesty and tenderness. I loved this book and will recommend it to interested students.”
“Two of our 6th grade teachers used Jumping the Scratch as a class read aloud. Here are some of their comments… “The kids took this book very seriously. This particular group of students (48 approx) felt a strong connection to the boy protagonist. They felt this was accomplished in the novel because the reader spends the majority of the book getting to know Jamie before the event is revealed. The students made a personal connection to Jamie and felt sorry for him by the time the event is revealed.” Both teachers liked the way that the issue of abuse was handled in that there it was neither graphic, nor were there specific details about what happened to Jamie. Each student interpreted the incident in their own way and some students had questions about it, but it was clear that there were enough students in the group who had had the experience in their own life of being extremely uncomfortable around a particular adult. Both teachers felt it was a powerful book and they were glad they had chosen to read it.”
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.