The King of Jam Sandwiches
The King of Jam Sandwiches
stopped walking. I took a seat on the steps of a walk leading up to a house. Harmony stood right in front of me. I had to decide exactly what I was going to tell her or if I should tell her anything. She had blurted out about me and my mother to Mrs. Levy. Would she tell people about this too?
“If I tell you, you can’t tell anybody,” I finally said.
“Okay, like I said, this is going to sound strange.” I took a deep breath. “I get up every morning knowing that I have to work hard.”
“That’s no surprise.”
“Not just hard. Harder. I get up thinking that I need to work harder and longer than everybody in the entire world, and if I do that, I can gain just a little. And if I do that every day, day after day after day, eventually I might, well, become somebody.” There. I’d said it. She stood there looking down at me.
“I know it sounds stupid but—”
“It doesn’t sound stupid at all. It makes complete sense,” she said, nodding. “Except you’re wrong about one thing.”
“What?” I asked.
“Robert, you already are somebody.”
“You already are somebody.”
And that’s when I burst into tears.
Robbie, 13, is the King of Jam Sandwiches. With a mentally ill father at home, Robbie knows how to take care of himself. When his father is not waking him up at all hours of the night or disappearing for days at a time, Robbie spends his time preparing meals, doing laundry and going to school, not to mention his part-time job. Robbie knows he deserves much better but feels he can’t do anything to change his situation, that is, until he meets Harmony.
Harmony is the fast-talking, tough as nails new kid in school, and it’s up to Robbie to show her the ropes. Not surprisingly, their first encounter ends horribly, with Robbie getting punched in the face. But despite their differences, Robbie and Harmony have a lot in common, including each having a dysfunctional parent, and once they realize this, they become inseparable.
But then one day, Robbie’s father disappears again, and Harmony’s mother runs away from rehab. On a mission to find her mother, Harmony displays the courage that Robbie so craves, and Harmony’s example kickstarts Robbie’s own quest to seek a better life.
Based on Eric Walters’ personal experiences, The King of Jam Sandwiches is a superb middle grade novel that focuses on the effects of poverty and mental illness on children and their families. Not only is it a realistic portrayal, but its being written in a nonjudgmental and compassionate way allows children to better understand a very serious topic.
Teresa Iaizzo is a librarian with the Toronto Public Library in Toronto, Ontario.