Savvy

Part heroine’s journey, part countercultural manifesto, Savvy by Ingrid Law offers young readers an emotional map through the maze of becoming a teenager.

At the outset, Mississipi (Mibs) Beaumont knows she’ll soon discover her savvy, a magical power that makes itself known—in her family, anyhow—on thirteenth birthdays. She bids glad farewell to snarky girls and packs up her backpack at her middle school for the last time, knowing her savvy might render her unsafe for public education. She dreams about the pink icing her mom will use to decorate her birthday cake and about the perfect dress her father picked out to help her celebrate. But that afternoon, her father is in a car accident. As her mom drives miles and miles down the interstate to the nearest hospital, Mibs and her siblings are left with their grandfather on Mibs’s special day.

Enter heroine’s journey. Mibs thinks her savvy will help to save her dad, so she hops on the bus of a traveling bible salesman (along with her siblings and the local preacher’s kids) to get to the hospital. The group of children start off as a motley crew, each stowed away on the bus for their own variety of inscrutable reasons. The Beaumonts worry about their savvies leaking, and the preacher’s kids protect their own set of family secrets. But as they square off with a variety of adults and adult situations, they come to trust each other enough to unleash those secrets. First, the kids have to deal with the good adults: the bus driver so wrapped up in his own wounds and needs that he can’t see the kids very clearly, and the waitress, so eager to care for others that she is blind to her real responsibilities. Then, the kids have to admit romance, when one of the preacher’s kids gives Mibs her first kiss. And last, they deal with the not-so-good adults: the waitress’s boss who berates and threatens everyone, and the bus driver’s ex-girlfriend who traps the littlest boy in a crawlspace while taunting the rest of the children.

Like all heroines, by the time Mibs reaches her destination, she and her crew have found more than they bargained for; she does discover her magical gift, but she also comes into her own sense of real savvy about her identity as a thirteen-year-old girl in a world asking her to grow up more quickly than she’d like. This is where Law’s work shifts toward the countercultural. First, her young character is self-aware enough to recognize that becoming thirteen is not becoming sixteen; she understands—by the end of her journey anyhow—that she is only beginning to move to adulthood. In fact, she reflects that “someday soon” she will “bloom like crazy,” but whatever it is inside her is “still too new to feel ready to bloom,” because it wants “time to send down roots” that will keep her “standing tall.”

Then, even more remarkable than knowing these truths about herself, Mibs acts on them. With gentleness and firm resolve, she takes the boy who’s kissed her aside, and tells him that she might like him, but she is not ready to be kissed like that. In a culture that markets low-slung jeans and sequined tank tops to kids in elementary school, and where Oprah Winfrey warns parents about an “oral sex epidemic” among 12- and 13-year olds, this awareness of inner limits in a newly minted teenager is unique to the point of being strange.

But strange as in strange and wonderful. Law saves the strangeness from alienating readers by Mibs’s sheer lovability. Instead of shrugging her off as an unusual sort of girl who doesn’t live in the real world, readers start to see things her way. We want Mibs to have room to “put down roots” so she can “bloom like crazy,” and her unusual journey becomes a path compelling enough to imitate.

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