Monday, July 21, 2014

Review: Jackie - John Tammela

A copy was provided for me
by the Author
in exchange for an honest review
Jackie by John Tammela
Genre: Middle Grade, nonfiction
Published on December 16, 2013
Published by Acorn Independent Press
Pages: 328
Read From: 7.11.14 - 7.12.14

Jackie was an average kid growing up in a Finnish household in Niagara Falls, Canada in the late 1930's and early 1940's. He had two older brothers, Eric, who picked on him, Armie, who was great at building forts and battle games and an older sister called Liisa, who was a bit too keen on "schooling" him. 
In this true story, you can join Jackie on his adventures as he deals with the pains of growing up, from the terrors of the school nurse to the pangs of his first crush, with a good few snowball fights thrown in for good measure. Well, after all, it is Canada - the land of ice and snow!


Cover Blurb: Yes or No? Well, at first I didn't care for the cover art. It's pretty dull. But as I read this book, the kid's expression of boredom and indifference to what's happening mirrored my feelings more and more. So now, I rather like the cover art. Before I get any further, this is an autobiography about the Author's early childhood, written in the style of a novel. Okay, now that we have that established: onwards.

Characters: I didn't really care about anyone. They weren't cardboard, but they were flat, and Jackie's personality was mostly defined by his fears and crying. I tried not to hold it against him; I mean, he's a kid with a lot of fears and anxieties. But because this book started out with him so young, and really ended where he was still very young, I didn't feel like he really grew much. Part of my indifference to the characters was the stilted dialogue and not exploring their personalities and backgrounds more. They were merely figures in Jackie's life, and not much else.

The Romance: We get to learn about some of Jackie's early crushes.

Plot: As said earlier, this is an autobiography written like a novel. Jackie chronicles the early life of John Tammela, as he grew up in Niagara Falls, Canada, in the late 1930's and early 1940's. I like autobiographies as much as the next history-obsessed bookworm, but something interesting has to have happened in that person's life to warrant an autobiography. Or if not, the writing style has to be captivating; it has to sweep the Reader away in the era that that person grew up in. Jackie is boring; there's no other way of putting it. It's one thing to have your granddad regale you with stories of his childhood. But reading a book full of kid adventures that simply aren't that exciting isn't the same. At all. It's just dull.

Believability: Not complaints.

Writing Style: Third person, past tense. Here is where I have my biggest complaints. Childhood adventures can be made interesting and extremely engaging - if the writing style is good. But it just plain wasn't. The Author tried to capture the childish excitement of snow fights and playing army. He tried to capture the childish fear of going to the dentist, being sick at the hospital, and of being lost in the woods. He didn't succeed. The dialogue was stilted, the descriptions lacked any magic, and he spent unnecessary time painstaking describing how to form a snow ball or crossing a dangerous ravine. The narration felt exactly like what it was: an adult remembering the blunt facts of their childhood, but totally forgetting what it actually felt like in that moment. He spared no time in giving background on his world; about the historical events, the town's history, or even really his parents' history. These may not be things that were necessarily important to a child of Jackie's age, true, but the Reader is going to want to know.

Content: There's a scene when Jackie is in the hospital and his nurse is giving him a vinegar sponge bath. I've quoted it below, so you can judge for yourself just how . . . . uncomfortable and even disturbing it is. Later in Jackie's life, when he's about nine, he has a crush on a neighborhood girl and they hide away under the porch during a game of hide-and-seek. However, Jackie's literally feeling the girl up under her skirt totally destroys the innocence of childhood crushes and casts it in a much more disturbing, mature light.

"Okay, Jackie, lie on your back again." Beulah spread his legs apart just a little so she could wash his private parts. She had done this before, so Jackie knew what was coming. 
"And what do you do in your art classes?" she asked, as her soapy slippery hand slowly maneuvered its way around the whole area. For some reason this caused Jackie to move his legs further apart. He didn't object at all, because it felt. . . .well. . . .good. (pg. 81-82)

Conclusion: This book actually ended where I think it should have begun: with Jackie and his family moving from Niagara Falls to Toronto. It would have been much more interesting to read about Jackie coping with moving to a new place, making new friends, et cetera. When I first started this book, I tried - I really tried to like it. But halfway through, I started to have that feeling of wanting to pull my teeth out. I had to count to twenty-five every time I felt like screaming. It was a chore finishing this book. It was dull, it wasn't very well written, and I felt obligated.

Recommended Audience: Technically it's for Middle Grade, but because of those two scenes, I would think more for teens.

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