Form and Content

(Survey of Young Adult Fiction)

Cracker Jackson provides an accurate portrayal of domestic violence and its effects not only on the victims themselves but also on all those who are exposed to it. Betsy Byars combines this grim subject with a compassionate and humorous portrayal of the simpler problems that Cracker and his trouble-making friend, Goat, face in their everyday lives. This mixture of humor and grim reality allows young readers to gain an insight into a serious social issue. The setting is deliberately vague, since the story could, and does, occur throughout the United States.

As the story opens, Cracker’s pleasure at receiving a letter in the mail quickly vanishes when he reads the anonymous message, “Keep away, Cracker, or he’ll kill you.” He immediately realizes that the letter is from his former babysitter, Alma, the only person who ever called him Cracker. Worried about Alma, he visits her while her husband, Billy Ray, is out. When Cracker mentions her bruises, Alma covers up with many excuses, denying that Billy Ray has ever hurt her. Her excessive fear when Billy Ray suddenly returns and her comment that he has inherited his father’s bad temper contradict this claim.

Realizing that Alma’s situation is very serious, Cracker tries to convince his parents that Billy Ray is abusing Alma, but they warn him not to interfere. Unable to find adult assistance, he enlists the aid of Goat to keep an eye on Alma. Goat visits Alma’s house...

(The entire section is 599 words.)