‘Jamie’s Got a Gun’ by Gail Sidonie Sobat with art by Spyder Yardley-Jones

Book Reviews

Jamies_Got_A_Gun_coverReviewed by Will J. Fawley

Jamie’s Got a Gun is a YA novel about potential. The story begins when Jamie brings home a gun he finds on the street, and the potential of that loaded gun haunts Jamie’s thoughts for the rest of the book. But that is not the only kind of potential that drives this book. Equally important is the potential we have to find love in unlikely places, to make a difference in the lives of those around us, and the potential to take action and make a change in our own lives, be it positive or negative. For Jamie, the gun is a chance to matter, to be noticed, and to protect the people he cares about.

Jamie’s Got a Gun is the diary of Jamie Kidding. The book itself is designed to look like a journal, and Jamie has written his initials “JK” on the back cover. His last name, “Kidding,” has a couple of different meanings: “joking,” and “kid” as in child. When he tags the buildings and dumpsters in his neighbourhood, Jamie’s signature is “No Kidding”. He also uses his name in place of the word “kid” as well. “My Kidding sister,” “when I was a little Kidding,” etc.  It’s easy to forget that Jamie is a kid because of all the pain and misfortune he has to deal with; but he is just a kid, and his name is a reminder of that as well.

When he’s not drawing in his journal, Jamie is a graffiti artist and part-time dumpster diver because his single mother can barely afford to keep a roof over the family, let alone buy new art supplies. One day when Jamie is sorting through a pile of trash, he finds a gun in the dumpster, and that gun becomes a possible answer to all of his problems. And Jamie has a lot of problems. He’s a kid growing up on the wrong side of the tracks. He lives with his mom and her abusive boyfriend, who Jamie refers to as “Hugh the Pugh” (short for pugilist), who beats both Jamie and his mom. His friend Tina has turned to prostitution.

And he feels like he’s the only one who can protect his little sister Candy from the grave reality of the world inside their apartment and the even darker one outside in the neighbourhood. Jamie sees the gun as an answer to all of these problems, a way to make people stop hurting him and his family, a way to make people notice and listen to him.

Jamie worries that he is capable of a school shooting or other form of violence. He claims to sympathize with school shooters, to “get” where they are coming from because he is lonely, below the poverty line, and no one seems to care about him. He wants to be noticed, loved, and to single-handedly put a stop to the violence in his home and his neighbourhood.

Jamie wears a black trench coat which he describes as his “shell.” But beneath that shell he’s sensitive and artistic, and he spends most of his time drawing. Jamie draws concert posters and creates a cartoon for the school paper in which he satirizes schoolmates, namely the school bully Blade Ataman, and himself as the Incredible Disappearing Boy. Jamie’s superhero alter-ego is yet another joke on himself, but he also sometimes imagines himself as a real hero, fighting crime with the gun to fix his life as well as those of his mother and sister, and to save his community.

A lot of the novel is somewhat plotless, and there are sometimes gaps in the story which break the flow, because this book is Jamie’s record and he doesn’t write everything down. The pace is slow at first, but it picks up and becomes more fluid when Jamie’s love interest Tatiana enters his life. Jamie thinks of using the gun on Hugh, Blade, Tony the pimp, or even selling it for cash to support his family. Whatever he decides to do, we know that the gun will play a role in Jamie’s life, and that tension is what drives the novel.

As the story progresses and Jamie discovers that the gun’s owner knows he took it and wants it back, the tension mounts and Jamie becomes increasingly paranoid. His sister Candy asserts, “You’re like a loaded gun.” From this assertion we understand that the gun has power, regardless of whether the trigger is pulled or not.

The book’s ending was a bit disjointed and anticlimactic as the imagined outcome was more exciting than what really happened. But it sticks close to Jamie’s point of view, and we see what happened and what could happen from his perspective, which is really what this novel is about.

Jamie’s Got A Gun is a graphic novel, but it’s not a graphic novel in the traditional sense. Some pages are full text, others are single images or drawn out in comic panels. And many are a combination of these forms, which flow seamlessly with the story. Because of the diary format, Jamie sometimes breaks the fourth wall by inserting drawings of the book itself.

The artwork itself is very well done and blends with the mood of the text. I was really impressed by the use of lighting in the images, the realistic reflections and shadows, and the art of Jamie’s graffiti as well. The pictures are drawn in interesting perspectives and the use of images inserted into text flows seamlessly with Jamie’s thoughts and perceptions of his world.

This technique really comes together at times, and stood out to me when Jamie learns he can’t protect his sister as she grows up and loses her innocence. There is a beautifully written/illustrated scene in which she urges Jamie to give up the gun and he flips her off. This is the first time he treats his little sister like a peer, and it occurs after they share a traumatic experience. It is a powerful scene of words and pictures.

Overall, Jamie’s story feels like a slice-of-life graphic novel such as those of Harvey Pekar or Daniel Clowes, but with more text. And the format of the book makes Jamie’s Got a Gun read as a more mature (teen fiction) equivalent of an illustrated children’s chapter book. But this book is not just for teens or comic-lovers. It is for anyone who would come across Jamie’s diary and care to know his story.

This form was a new experience for me, and came together in a convincing way that makes the reader feel like they are picking up Jamie’s journal, getting a glimpse into his life, and understanding what could lead a teen to see violence as an answer to their problems. Jamie’s problems are very real issues facing young people, and teens and children do need help from forces outside their lives, hopefully from somewhere other than a gun.

Great Plains | 280 pages |  $14.95 | paper | ISBN # 978-1926531885

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Will J. Fawley

Will holds an MFA from George Mason University where he was assistant fiction editor for Phoebe Journal of Literature and Art. His short fiction recently appeared in Sassafras Literary Magazine and his poetry has appeared in Literati Magazine. Will worked on his first novel with Duncan Thornton during the 2013 Sheldon Oberman Mentorship Program.