Title: What Jamie SawWhat Jamie Saw
Author: Carolyn Coman
Pages: 126
Reading Level: 8-10
Star Rating:

A 1996 Newbery Honor Book.

The Story.

He saw it happen. He saw Nin flying through the air, and he saw him mom catch her. He saw his mom catch Nin when their dad, Van, threw her. But why did he throw her? Jamie doesn’t know. He knew why he and Nin and their mom went out to the car and drove through the night to a place far, far away, though. It was to get away from Van, to get away from being thrown in the nighttime, to get to a safe place.

But can they start over? Or will they always see the image of Van before them, violent – threatening?


When I found this Newbery book, I assumed that, like most Newberys, I wouldn’t think it was the best book ever, but that I would enjoy it and like it to a normal degree. And the writing style was lyrically, rhythmically, stream-of-conscious-style beautiful. But the story itself!

If it’s not obvious from the above synopsis, let me make it clear. Jamie wakes up in the middle of the night to the sight of his father hurling his baby sister through the air. Had his mother not been there to catch her, the baby would likely have been killed or at least badly injured. When his mom realizes what just happened, she immediately puts her children in the car and drives to a friend’s house, where she tries to figure out how she can support her two children while keeping them safe from their abusive father.

They live the rest of the story in fear; what will happen if Van tries to find them? Can they survive on their own? Jamie, especially, is fearful and he retreats into his favorite activity – magic tricks – in an attempt to feel strong and powerful. His fear causes him to lash out in strange fits, once kicking his mother, and another time kicking the bed in which his sister sleeps. His mother is frightened and reacts both in sympathy and anger to Jamie’s misbehaviors.

By the end, they seem to have settled into some type of normalcy. Van has come to visit but quickly left when he realized how hated and feared he was. Jamie was quick to protect his little sister in this scene, but no physical harm was actually threatened.

I don’t believe that because physical abuse / divorce are ugly that they shouldn’t be dealt with in literature. I understand that children who have experienced these situations may profit from reading a story that deals with those themes. But I don’t think that children who have been brought up in stable homes will enjoy this story.

During the time that Jamie’s mom isn’t working they watch TV together or play card games. She also smokes often.

A variety of curse words are used – ‘d***’, ‘h***’, ‘s***’, and God’s name.

Conclusion. Not recommended for happily situated children.

Review © 2015 Laura Verret

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