BookPage Children's Top Pick, January 2018
Punch! That’s what Robinson Hart does to Alex Carter, the biggest bully in fifth grade, when he calls her a “motherless Robin bird.” Robinson’s mother died soon after she was born, so Alex hit a nerve. In this moment, the feisty, memorable, baseball-loving heroine of Lindsey Stoddard’s Just Like Jackie momentarily forgets the words of her grandpa: “The man you’re named for was a great ballplayer. The first black player in the league. People taunted him all the time, but he didn’t pay no mind.”
School administrators in the small Vermont town try to help Robbie control her broiling anger, but a family tree project isn’t helping. She knows little about her family, except that she is one-quarter black and lives with her black grandpa, whom she adores.
Robbie is happiest when she’s helping Grandpa fix cars at his garage, along with the other mechanic, Harold, who is adopting a baby with his partner. But Robbie’s been increasingly on edge because she’s also trying to hide an important secret: Grandpa is becoming more and more forgetful. She knows she needs to find out about her family before Grandpa’s memories are gone forever.
Robbie soon learns that she’s not the only one aggravated by the family tree project. She’s forced to attend Group Guidance meetings at school, along with none other than the dreaded Alex Carter and several other students. A sensitive counselor named Ms. Gloria gently allows each group member to gradually open up and reveal their troubles in a Breakfast Club sort of way.
Just Like Jackie covers a cornucopia of social hot points: Alzheimer’s, a parent dying of cancer, divorce, mixed-race families, gay couples, anger management, bullying, adoption and more. The story never feels forced, however, nor the issues gratuitous. Stoddard’s natural storytelling talent allows Robbie’s character to emerge like an extraordinary butterfly breaking its way out of a cocoon.