My Name Is Hamburger

  • Review
By – November 23, 2022

The title of Jacque­line Jules’s high­ly rec­om­mend­ed new nov­el-in-verse reflects the ironies of grow­ing up Jew­ish in a small south­ern town in the mid – twen­ti­eth cen­tu­ry. Trudie Ham­burg­er has lov­ing par­ents and close friends. Her father’s Ger­man accent and her family’s obvi­ous dis­tance from their church-attend­ing neigh­bors present chal­lenges; and she is ostra­cized for her seem­ing­ly odd last name. While Trudie’s Jew­ish home life and syn­a­gogue atten­dance strength­en her iden­ti­ty, the near era­sure of her father’s trau­mat­ic past leaves a gap in her under­stand­ing. Jules’s tone is under­stat­ed, invok­ing a spe­cif­ic time and place, but it encour­ages today’s young read­ers to iden­ti­fy with and learn from Trudie’s experience.

Adults shar­ing this mid­dle-grade nov­el with their chil­dren and stu­dents will con­nect with cul­tur­al touch­stones of the era, from pop­u­lar music to books. Jules, a librar­i­an as well as an author, cap­tures the lit­er­ary tastes of a book­ish girl, with ref­er­ences to the Half Mag­ic series and biogra­phies of icon­ic women. Young read­ers, even if unfa­mil­iar with these allu­sions, will appre­ci­ate the way that the book places Trudie’s dilem­ma in an era that is dif­fer­ent but still rec­og­niz­able. Trudie feels hurt when oth­er girls exclude her, frus­trat­ed by injus­tices that appear in school and at home. Not only that, her mother’s con­stant atten­tion to Trudie’s younger broth­er, who was born pre­ma­ture­ly, pro­vokes some resentment.

The anti­semitism at the core of the sto­ry is not vio­lent, nor is it obvi­ous­ly men­ac­ing. It is a painful sub­text under­ly­ing Trudie’s emo­tion­al respons­es. Her last name match­es the most iden­ti­fi­ably Amer­i­can food and, at the same time, marks her as for­eign. Some of the prej­u­dice she encoun­ters is pas­sive, such as the class­mate who will not invite her to an exclu­sive coun­try club. But one fel­low stu­dent hurls taunts at her, com­par­ing her to chopped meat.” Worse, adults in posi­tions of author­i­ty some­times abuse their pow­er. The music teacher exiles Trudie from class rather than mod­i­fy­ing her selec­tions of Chris­t­ian songs. Even though Trudie finds refuge in the library with Mrs. Bryan, who encour­ages and sup­ports her, her iso­la­tion dif­fer­en­ti­ates her from the rest of her com­mu­ni­ty. When an Asian Amer­i­can boy moves to the town, he and Trudie bond over their love of read­ing, and she also finds the courage to chal­lenge his marginalization.

Hop­ing to pro­tect her, Trudie’s par­ents have left a great deal unsaid about the miss­ing mem­bers of her father’s fam­i­ly. She ques­tions the vague expla­na­tion that Daddy’s fam­i­ly didn’t make it out.’ No one wants to explain to kids what that means.” Trudie is torn between her deter­mi­na­tion to one day learn the truth and her desire to spare her father any fur­ther suf­fer­ing. As the story’s events unfold, Trudie’s fam­i­ly, and even some of their neigh­bors, are forced to rec­og­nize the dan­gers of pro­ject­ing their fears onto any­one per­ceived as dif­fer­ent. As a result, Jules strikes a care­ful bal­ance between a uni­ver­sal mes­sage and Trudie’s indi­vid­ual envi­ron­ment. The awk­ward dis­so­nance between her name and the place she calls home does not defeat her; read­ers know that she will put past and present togeth­er and find her way forward.

Emi­ly Schnei­der writes about lit­er­a­ture, fem­i­nism, and cul­ture for TabletThe For­wardThe Horn Book, and oth­er pub­li­ca­tions, and writes about chil­dren’s books on her blog. She has a Ph.D. in Romance Lan­guages and Literatures.

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