‘Be kind always…for everyone you meet is fighting a battle you know nothing about!’
– Ian Maclaren
That quote came to mind more than once while I was reading Just Like Jackie. It’s the story of an 11 year old girl named Robinson (after Jackie Robinson) who lives alone with her grandfather and struggles to stay out of trouble in school. Her grandfather is black and she is mixed-race and knows nothing about her parents or any other members of her family.
As we get to know Robbie, we can see that she’s angry…and she has plenty to be angry about. She’s made fun of at school…for her name, for her being different than her grandfather,etc. She doesn’t have the sense of belonging that comes from knowing your roots and so she struggles to see herself belonging anywhere. She tussles with an entitled boy at school and ‘pops off’ at her teachers. She defends the underdogs in her class and finds injustice everywhere! It breaks her heart to disappoint her grandfather but she just can’t find a way to deal with her feelings!
Robbie is only truly comfortable working on cars at her grandfather’s shop, tapping trees for maple syrup and playing baseball. Her grandfather is her home base but has begun to exhibit memory lapses and strange behavior that leaves Robbie worried that she might be taken from him. It’s all a lot for a little girl to have to handle. She struggles to keep her emotions from bubbling over at school and is ultimately forced to join a small group of students who meet with guidance counselor regularly. Unfortunately, her nemesis, Alex, is also part of that group. Luckily, the guidance counselor, Ms Gloria, is just the kind of adult who knows how to help.
As Robbie struggles to make progress, her 5th grade class begins to work on a family tree project which leaves Robbie feeling exposed because she doesn’t know anyone to put on her tree. Developments in the classroom, in her small group and with her grandfather bring things to a head in the best and worst possible ways. Ultimately, Robbie learns that we are ‘all fighting our own battles’ and that we ‘make our own family’ (another favorite saying of mine!)
Robbie is well-drawn and lovable in a truly imperfect way. She’s not girly without being a stereotype of a tomboy. Stoddard peppers the book with broken souls that you just can’t help but love…and I loved them all! I found myself rooting for the underdogs, just like Robbie does, throughout the book and cheering as they found peace in one another!