2009 Newbery Honor Winner SAVVY is now in PAPERBACK!!!
Before I write my review of Savvy by Ingrid Law I need to thank my faithful reader, Jeremy and his daughter Ivy for keeping this book from slipping under my radar more than once. Savvy, The Penderwicks and The Mysterious Benedict Society by Trenton Lee Stewart (which I promise to pick up again and review very soon...) are Ivy's three favorite books and I have to say, she has excellent taste! Thanks for introducing me to what is now one my my favorite new books Jeremy and Ivy!
Savvy came out in May of 2008 and is still in hardcover. One of the corporate book buyers must have thought it would be big (which it is) because we got a huge stack for our summer reading table. The cover, by the amazingly gifted and busy children's book illustrator Brandon Dorman is so dazzlingly beautiful that it was impossible not to pick up and read the flap. Unsurprisingly, it was voted Favorite Book Jacket of 2008 by Publishers Weekly Magazine. Yet, when I read the flap nothing clicked with me at the time. As every reader knows, sometimes you have to come across a book at just the right time for you to really embrace it. And once I did start reading Savvy I completely embraced it. I discovered that the words inside the book are just as dazzlingly, swirlingly, colorfully beautiful as the cover art, which I sincerely hope they do not change for the paperback edition. The dazzling, swirling words of this book and the rampant similes, rich descriptions and southernisms of Mississippi Beaumont, also known as Mibs, the thirteen year old narrator of the book might take a little getting used to. But, once you get the hang for her style of speech you will find yourself totally absorbed by the wet, humid, crackling world that Ingrid Law creates in this book.
The plot, which I don't want to reveal to much of, is laid out sparsely on the jacket flap. In the Beaumont family, savvies appear when a child turns thirteen. The genius of Law's book, title and concept is that the idea of a "savvy," whether it is defined as a deep understanding of something, a knowingness, as it is in our world, or defined as a superhuman ability, as it is in Law's book (and she thinks up some hilarious, clever savvies for her characters), it can be read, above all else, a metaphor for understanding and coming to know one's self. And, to take it one step further, this knowingness comes at a natural time of transition in every child's life - the sometimes momentous passage from child to teenager. The other brilliance of Law's use of "savvy" is that it speaks to the innermost longings of most, especially reading, children. What kid doesn't want to believe that she has some special, hidden talent that will emerge on a set date? What kid doesn't think that he has some super ability waiting to be discovered, an ability that will allow him to stand out amongst his peers? Who doesn't want to believe that he/she is special in some way that hasn't been uncovered yet? Like Claudia in EL Konigsburg's masterpiece, From the Mixed-up Files of Mrs Basil E Frankweiler, which I think may have been the first book for children to acknowledge the desire for specialness, some kids want something in their lives that will make them, prove to them that they are different. For Claudia, it was discovering the secret of the angel statue and having that secret to keep. For the Beaumonts, it is their special power which also must be kept a secret. But, one of the many beauties of this book is the way in which Mibs and her family learn to trust others with their secrets and share their savvies.
The action of the book, the plot event that gets the story moving is not Mibs' thirteenth birthday and the revelation of her savvy, but a car accident the day before that leaves her father in critical condition. Mrs Beaumont and Rocket, the oldest Beaumont child who, at the age of seventeen still has not found a way to "scumble," or control, his savvy, go to the hospital ninety miles away to be with Mr Beaumont, leaving Mibs, her fourteen year old brother Fish, her seven year old brother Samson, her three year old sister Gypsy and Grandpa Bomba at home to wait and worry. But, they are not alone for long. Mrs Rosemary Meeks, the preacher's wife, and her children Bobbi, sixteen, and Will Jr, fourteen, arrive at the Beaumont house to take care of the remaining family and throw Mibs a thirteenth birthday party. Mistakenly believing her savvy is the ability to wake sleeping people, Mibs stows away on the pink bus that belongs to Lester Swan, a nervous bible delivery man who is bullied mercilessly by his mother and girlfriend, which is headed to the town where her father is hospitalized. Seeing her sneak aboard the bus, Will Jr, Fish and Bobbi follow. Samson, an introverted child who rarely speaks and always finds a dark hole to hide in (much like my roommate freshman year of college...) has already hidden himself on the bus in an attempt to avoid his sister's party. However, Lester isn't headed straight to Salina-Hope and an adventure ensues.
Law wraps up her story with the same sensitivity, thoughtfulness and tenderness that she shows her characters in the rest of the book. Being a children's book, Mr Beaumont does not die, however he does seem to wake from his coma at the dramatic moment that Mibs begs/wills him to. But, he returns to the family a different man. The existence of savvies in their lives has made the Beaumonts a more connected, insular family - the children are all home schooled after their thirteenth birthdays until they learn to control their powers. They all enjoy each other's company immensely and seem to have no need for outsiders. Because of this, they are able to cope with Mr Beaumont's injuries and changes in a loving way that makes you wish all bittersweet endings could be so sweet.
I have specifically chosen not to disclose the savvy that is bestowed on Mibs. Again, it is another act of genius on the part of Ingrid Law. It is so hard not to discuss Mibs' savvy because, like savvies themselves, it works on many levels and pertains specifically to something negative that all us humans do on a daily basis but could change if we wanted to... Maybe I've piqued your interests just enough now to get you to read one of the best chapter books of 2008, Savvy!
And, just in case those of you who have read the book are wondering, there really is a Hebron, Nebraska and it really is the home of the World's Largest Porch Swing!
Coming August 24, 2010, SCUMBLE!!!