Judith Eiselin, along with authors like Astrid Lindgren and Guus Kuijer, is one of that rare group of children’s writers who are capable of fully immersing themselves in the heads of their young characters. In Jim, a dynamic holiday adventure with an ingenious plot and a dash of mystery, that head belongs to eleven-year-old Kiki Moerman. She is a pretty unremarkable, “just plain ordinary” girl, but Eiselin portrays her in such an extraordinary way that you can’t help but love her.
The driving force behind the story is Jelmer, Kiki’s fourteen-year-old brother, who is extremely gifted, but also extremely sensitive. He goes off into his own dimension and gets really wound up by anything that’s new and different.
Family life has to revolve around him, to the extent that no one really seems to function as they should. Narrator Kiki, who believes that “words are important”, subtly notes that “no one in this family fits together”. She’s so angry and sad that she starts to wish the others weren’t there at all.
When Kiki visits her grandma, who she’s named after, and finds a grubby postcard in the wastepaper basket signed by an almost illegible “Jim”, she hopes that it was actually meant for her. Like many eleven-year-olds, she starts to wonder whether her desperate, quarrelling parents are even her real mum and dad and she leaves reality behind to daydream about Jim, a cool brother who’s out there looking for her. It’s the start of a quest that’s full of adventure.
Beautifully evocative scenes, enigmatic pictures and subtle clues combine to support Kiki’s wishful thinking. When the family travels back home from Gran’s on the train in the foggy darkness, Kiki sees the others reflected in the glass and feels an “extra world” looming up. And when they head off to the Channel Island of Sark on summer holiday, an alluring island enveloped in the colours of the sea and the scent of flowers, Kiki not only finds her dream horse, a source of both comfort and holiday fun, but also sees special signs everywhere she goes, in the form of letters, tickets and maps, which are brought to life in photographic illustrations by Monique Bauman.
A dark cave and a rising tide are the exciting prelude to the unexpected finale, which provides this gripping story and its realistic characters with a moving conclusion and makes us realise that “you actually only ever know very little about what other people know”.