Book Savvy

A great cover made even greater by the pink bus in the corner

  I was so pleased to see that this book has finally been released in paperback. I’ve been meaning to read it for ages, given the great premise and the oodles of glowing reviews it’s received over the years. Having devoured it in the past couple of days, I was not disappointed.

On the eve of her thirteenth birthday, Mibs Beaumont is anxious to discover what her savvy will be. Each of the Beaumonts are blessed with a peculiar gift, or savvy, bordering on the supernatural, that first appears on the child’s thirteenth birthday. Mibs’  brother Fish creates weather and her older brother Rocket controls electricity. But when her father is critically injured in a car accident, Mibs’ new-found savvy becomes more important than ever. Accompanied by a sullen teenager, the preacher’s son, one silent little brother and one unpredicatable older brother, Mibs heads out on a wild roadtrip to save her father’s life.

The narrative style of Savvy fits into one of my favourite little niches in children’s literature, which I have come to think of as American Contemporary. Characteristics of American Contemporary include first person narration, a rural or small town setting, and strong characterization. These characteristics often inform each other; the narrator is usually incredibly well-realized through the disctinct use of voice, which is flavoured by the dialect or slang of the novel’s setting. Some of my favourite American Contemporary novels include Walk Two Moons, The Higher Power of Lucky, All Alone in the Universe, and Shug. Voice and characterization are two of the most important aspects of my own writing, and are two elements that I am forever striving to master. Authors like Ingrid Law are inspiring in their skill and authenticity.

Although all of the characters are well developed, it is Mibs, our charming narrator, who has character to spare. Mibs is teetering on the edge of childhood, balancing the very grown-up issues of a potential love interest and the fate of her father with the childhood desires represented by her perfect yellow birthday dress. The conceit of coming into your own unique savvy and learning how to control it is the perfect coming-of-age metaphor. The parallels are subtle and brilliant and never once feel constructed or imposed.

Ingrid Law is a wordsmith of the highest degree. Her use of language is fun and original. Take, for example, the stretch of land, apparently created by Grandpa Bomba, that the Beaumonts refer to as “Kansaska-Nebransas.” This sort of clever wordplay is sprinkled throughout Savvy and sets Law apart from her peers.

This is one of those novels that is not quite fantasy, but definitely not straight-up realistic fiction. I love it when authors are able to successfully blend in elements of the extraordinary into an otherwise realistic text. I can’t wait for Law’s follow up, Scumble, set to be released in August 2010.

Savvy is available now from Puffin Books.

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