Ingrid Law's Savvy is an immensely fun middle grade novel about a close-knit family whose members each have over-the-top special abilities, from controlling the weather to the ability to have things like pies turn out perfect every time. Each person's ability, called his or her "savvy", makes itself known on the person's thirteenth birthday. As Savvy begins, Mibs Beaumont is approaching her pivotal day, and curious about which gift it will bring. Due to a family tragedy, however, she's not with her parents that day. Instead, she ends up on an unauthorized road trip with two of her brothers, two kids from church, an oversized waitress, and a rumpled bible deliveryman. This unlikely team gels over the course of the trip, learning about each other while eating pie and striving to get back to the Beaumont parents.
Savvy has a great first line:
"When my brother FIsh turned thirteen, we moved to the deepest part of inland because of the hurricane and, of course, the fact that he'd caused it." (Page 1)
After that we get quirky, multi-dimensional characters, with realistically prickly interactions between them. We get a little brother who hides himself away in tight spaces whenever he can, an introvert to end all introverts. We get a friend who, though without magical powers, has a secret of his own. There's even a love story or two.
Law also sprinkles references to other fantasy stories throughout the text, particularly The Wizard of Oz. The first one I noticed was:
"... I felt selfish and shamed and bad enough to have a house come land PLOP down on me, leaving nothing but my feet sticking out; that's just how wicked I felt." (Chapter 3)
Later, Mibs refers to a character names Ozzie, who they meet in the town of Emerald, as "The Great and Powerful Ozzie". You get the idea. The fantasy references add an extra layer of fun - a tip of the hat to other stories of fantastical road trips.
But what I like most about Savvy is that it's more character-driven caper novel than fantasy. Sure, Mibs and her family members have special abilities, and those abilities are delightfully quirky (one distant family member can make time jump backwards by 20 minutes when she sneezes). Mibs' ability (which I'm not going to reveal) is like nothing else I've read - I don't know how on earth Ingrid Law came up with it. And yet, I feel like the book would still have been worth reading even without all of that (though something else would have been needed to create conflict from time to time). I'm not saying that it would have been a better book that way. The whole treatment of savvies is entertaining and original, and I wouldn't have missed it. I'm just saying that the characterization, pace, and setting in Savvy transcend the premise. But I do like the suggestion that Law makes in the book (well, Momma suggests this), that lots of ordinary people have their own savvy - something that just comes naturally and easily. (I think that my savvy is knowing how movies are going to end, which is not especially useful.)
I would recommend Savvy for all readers, age 10 or so and up, whether they enjoy traditional fantasy or not. Although the narrator is a girl, I see no reason why boys wouldn't enjoy it, too. According to this interview, Savvy has been optioned for a feature film, and I look forward to that. Savvy is pure fun, and not to be missed. What's your savvy?
Publisher: Dial Books for Young Readers
Publication Date: May 1, 2008
Source of Book: Advance review copy from the publisher. Quotes are from the advanced copy, and should be checked against the final book.
Other Blog Reviews: The Well-Read Child, Kinnelon Library Teen Blog, Children's Literature Book Club, Cool Kids Read, Eva's Book Addiction, Random World, Sarah Miller, The Children's Book Review, Turning the Paige, Abby (the) Librarian, and so on.
Author Interviews: Little Willow, Fuse #8, Look Books
© 2009 by Jennifer Robinson of Jen Robinson's Book Page. All rights reserved.