Series: Savvy #1
In the Beaumont family, each child receives his or her “savvy”–a magical power that can take any form from the ability to control the weather to the ability to capture radio waves–at the age of thirteen. Mibs Beaumont is about to celebrate her birthday and she is convinced that, whatever her power, it will enable her to wake up her father from the coma he has lain in since his accident. Determined to save the day, Mibs boards a bus to the hospital, only to find the bus heading in the wrong direction. Her journey will teach her that everyone has a story, for those who care to listen.
Savvy appears, from the cover blurbs, to be one of those heartwarming coming-of-age stories, the kind that stays with you, reminding you of your own transition into adulthood or perhaps providing a sort of comfort in dark times–the knowledge that others have experienced your struggle, too, and that you are not alone. Add a dash of magic to that story, I thought, and you could even potentially have a classic in the making. However, though I enjoyed Savvy and found it a pleasant way to spend the afternoon, the book ultimately did not prove particularly original or even particularly memorable.
Sometimes I wonder if Savvy is not hampered by its designation as a middle-school book. The premise is basically that young protagonist Mibs Beaumont goes on a journey in which she learns to find her voice and how to understand and connect with others. Her savvy obviously helps her achieve this, but I do not wish to give her special power away–readers, like Mibs, will eagerly await the reveal on her birthday. However, suffice it to say that Mibs learns to listen to other people, learns that everyone has a backstory, that not everyone is who they appear to be or who they wish others to believe them to be. Some people have experienced a lot of pain, making them who they are. Many people are hiding secrets. By recognize this, Mibs starts to empathize rather than judge. But the entire time, the real pain, the real backstory always seems to lie just out of reach. Some of these people have substance abuse, bad relationships, or life-changing mistakes in their pasts, yet all these things are merely hinted at–the book clearly hesitates to expose its target audience to the full tragedy and pain of the very topics it introduces.
One can understand, of course. No parent wants their children stripped of innocence by a stranger’s book. Or perhaps the point is that Mibs understands these topics as a child. She has no experience with broken families or broken lives. She possibly does not understand what an out-of-wedlock pregnancy means to some people–the panic it could cause or the fear or the shame, depending on the circumstances and the parties involved. She does not know what it means to have to live on the streets. She does not know what it feels like to have everyone think you a failure. And so she mediates these topics to the audience in a vague sort of way, understanding something is wrong and something hurts, but not realizing just how much it hurts. But when she does mediate those topics, they lose some of their power.
Perhaps younger readers will view the work differently, focusing on Mibs’s growth as she comes into contact with the lives of other people and feeling that her outside empathy is enough. I, however, could never shake the feeling that there was so much more that could be probed, that this story maybe should have been a little more about those other people, just as much as it was about Mibs. If it had, I think her growth would have been stronger and the story would have been stronger. It may have even proved to be the story I had hoped for in the first place.