What Jamie Saw (1995), by Carolyn Coman

Coman-JamieI picked this up from a table at our yearly United Way book sale, thinking it could be interesting. The picture on the cover is very “John Walton,” but with an almost mournful expression on the young boy’s face.  With that image in mind, I began to read… “When Jamie saw him throw the baby, saw Van the little baby, saw Van throw his little sister Nin…” So much for the peaceful family security of The Waltons; what Jamie saw includes child and spousal abuse from his mother’s unstable alcoholic boyfriend. “… when Jamie saw Van throw his little sister Nin, then they moved” (7).

The incongruity between the subject matter and the narrative voice brings the reader deep into the terror that Jamie feels, his need to trust his mother, and his desire to be strong and protect her and his baby sister. The 3rd-person narration is nonetheless very much from Jamie’s perspective, and it is this child’s-view of a very adult situation that strikes such a strong chord. Through the eyes of a naïve child we can glean the difficulties Jamie’s mother is facing, see how hard she works to keep her children safe while striving to retain a sense of independence and dignity. Moving to a small trailer deep in the woods provides an isolation that is both comforting and dangerous: they can hide there, but have no help if indeed they are found… and there is the added complication of ensuring that Jamie stays in school. Having left the abusive situation with Van, Jamie’s family finds in the woods the peace they need to help heal themselves. Living through and beyond the terror of that life, Jamie finds both an inner strength and the security that finally allows him to be a child.

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