Ingrid Law’s Savvy is a 2009 Newbery honor book, and it’s one that I passed over several times before bringing it home from the library to read. For some reason, the cover was unappealing to me–to me it looks magical or sci-fi-ey or something else I have to be in just the right mood to read. Of course, if I’d had any idea how much I’d like this little book, I would’ve picked it up long ago.
It’s a coming-of-age story with a delightful twist: Mississippi “Mibs” Beaumont is on the brink of her thirteenth birthday, a life-changing milestone in the Beaumont family. It’s on their thirteenth birthay that they discover their “savvy,” or their special gifting. However, these are not ordinary talents, but rather, extraordinary abilities: Mibs’ oldest brother Rocket is literally electrical–he can supply the power for their old junker of a car and get it where ever they need to go; he can short-circuit entire towns, plunging them into darkness. Mibs’ next oldest sibling, Fish, has the ability to make his own weather–stormy weather. In fact, it was Fish’s inability to “scumble” his savvy (control or discipline it) that forced the family to move as far inland as they could–to Kansaska-Nebransas, as the beloved-but-otherwise-ordinary Beaumont father christens their new home on the plains.
Unfortunately, Mibs’ thirteenth birthday occurs just after their father is involved in a bad car accident, and Mibs becomes convince that her savvy will help her father get well. What follows is a wild road trip for Mibs, Fish, and their younger brother Samson who are all stowaways aboard a pink bus belonging to a mild-mannered Bible deliveryman. Along for the ride are the children of the local holier-than-thou pastor, a stereotypical rebellious “PK” teenage girl and a boy with eyes only for Mibs. Add a down-on-her-luck truckstop waitress to this motley crew and you have the makings for quite an interesting adventure.
I don’t want to give away Mibs’ savvy, but I will say that it provides her real insight into others and their particular problems. This, in turn, gives her insight into herself and helps her grow up just a little. If it sounds a little pop psychology-ish, it is; however, there’s also more than a grain of truth in what Mibs learns on their adventure.
Savvy is one of those books that caused me to sit back and think, “Now that is a great sentence.” Ingrid Law’s writing is vivid and imaginative, with lots of unexpected turns-of-phrase and gymnastics of diction:
Momma made the whole family go to church in Hebron every Sunday in spite of any fears of savvy catastrophes, and Miss Rosemary [the preacher’s wife] was well-known to us all. She smell like Lysol and butterscotch and had her own matching set of rights and wrongs–like suitcases she made other people carry–and she took it upon herself to make everyone and everything as ship-shape as she felt the Lord had intended them to be. (17-18)
Isn’t that perfect?
Of course, that’s the perfect segue into how this book treats Christianity, isn’t it? While I really can’t say that Christianity comes off extremely positively in this story, I don’t think it’s a negative depiction, either. In fact, the faults and failings of the characters in the story (like the pastor of the Hebron church) seem more to merely be human foibles that overt examples of how Christianity has “failed.” In fact, I would say that this book has as a theme the idea of living with hope, so it’s a very positive, life-affirming message.
There is an element of romance in the story. One of the romances is a first love for Mib, and it’s very gentle and realistically portrayed. Although I’m not a fan of teenage romances in general, I think this one is well and tastefully done.
In short (ha!), I loved this book and can’t imagine how it didn’t win the Newbery in 2009. Neil Gaiman’s The Graveyard Book was that year’s medalist, and I haven’t read it. I have read another of the honor books, The Underneath by Kathi Appelt, and while I really liked it (and had some serious reservations about it, too), I love Savvy with no reservations at all. Highly Recommended. (Dial, 2008)
There’s a sequel to this one entitled Scumble, and I really want to read it!
Reviews and related links:
- Ingrid Law’s website
- Review at 5 Minutes for Books
- Review at Rhapsody in Books Weblog with some interesting parallels between Savvy and another classic children’s book
- Review at Maw Books Blog