Being the new kid at school is not easy, but being the new kid 5 times in 2 years is probably as difficult as it gets.
Yet this is where we find Jack.
Since his dad left, he and his Mum have travelled from place to place, never staying anywhere long enough to change the wallpaper but making Jack a world class expert in packing and a coping mechanism he employs at school that he calls the ‘Sherlock Code’.
One of the main rules of the ‘code’ is you don’t stand out, you remain unnoticed- yes, this means you don’t make friends but in this way you protect your feelings-Jack believes this has been a successful survival strategy in schools 1-5 but now, at school 6, he has met Tyler.
Tyler is different; he makes wacky but extremely useful inventions; he is fun to be around and despite Jack’s ‘code’, Tyler seems to see the real Jack and what’s more he seems to like what he sees!
Reluctant to break his self preservation rules but intrigued by Tyler, Jack allows a friendship to bloom. As his mum unpacks their possessions in a home where she says they will stay, Jack unpacks his personality and is just becoming comfortable with what it is like to be ’Just Jack’ when everything starts to go wrong.
Through Jack’s narrative, the reader explores the complex emotions of an 11 year old who is struggling with his parents' separation, his now unfamiliar relationship with his Dad and all the while trying to fit into a new environment. Jack’s story is realistic and he makes mistakes which as a shared read would provide plenty of opportunities for discussion.
This page-turning novel has many moments which will make the reader smile (and possibly head to the kitchen to make their own disgusting sandwich!) But also within Jack’s story there are moments of pure everyday beauty - surprising for what at first seems such a simple plot.
The chapter ‘Funny Voices’ is just one example of the quality of Kate Scott’s writing. In it, Jack remembers his younger self awaiting the return of his Dad in airport arrivals; by the end paragraph I tearfully had to close the book and ponder, lost in one of those deliciously tingly ‘this is amazing’ moments, which are created by great books. I do hope this will have the same effect on the children I share this book with - it is those moments that make readers.
‘Just Jack’ is not just an enjoyable, pacy, real- life story, with wonderful likeable characters -it is a masterclass in empathy that would make a fantastic ‘Guided read’.
Just Jack Kate Scott
Piccadilly Press ISBN: 978-1848126244