I love the cover of Savvy. The swirl of contrasting colors, the raised silver letters of the title, the lightening zigzagging across the sky–all of this made me itch to pick up the book. Fortunately, the story itself was as good at the cover artistry. The first sentence pulls you in, “When my brother Fish turned thirteen, we moved to the deepest part of inland because of the hurricane and, of course, the face that he’d caused it.”
Soon, we learn that the narrator, Mibs (short for Mississipi) Beaumont, is turning 13 the next day. In the Beaumont family, 13 is a significant birthday because it’s the onset of your savvy, your special power. Fish causes hurricanes, oldest brother Rocket controls electricity, and Grandpa can create new land. Mama is perfect, and Grandma used to bottle radio waves in special jar. Mibs can’t wait to discover her own savvy, but a shocking phone call interrupts her birthday preparations. The family finds out that their beloved Papa has been in a terrible car accident.
Mama and older brother Rocket rush to Papa’s side, but Mibs and her siblings are left behind with the fearsome babysitter, Miss Rosemary. Not liking this arrangement, Mibs hitches a ride on a Bible salesman’s bus, determined to reach her Papa and save him with her oncoming savvy. Will Junior and Bobbi, the pastor’s children, join them, and they pick up a kind lady named Lill along the way.
Savvy is the story of a journey, so of course there are bumps in the long road, and the bus doesn’t exactly beeline towards the expected destination. Along the way, Mibs discovers her unique savvy, Fish struggles to control his ability, and Lester the Bible salesman gets some help from Lill. In fact, nearly every character on the bus has a story line, and Law does a great job letting characters grow while keeping all events pertinent to the plot.
The story moves at a brisk pace, holding your interest the whole time. The language for the most part is delightful and character descriptions are spot-on. For instance, check out the first introduction of Lester the Bible salesman, “The deliveryman was wearing overalls with a button-down shirt and a stained pink necktie. There was a wilted carnation pinned to the left strap of the man’s overalls and his thin hair was combed up and over his balding head like a blanket. He had a kind, sad face–like the face of a man who had just lost his dog–and he was holding a clipboard out in front of him like a shield.”
My only problem with the language was the made-up words sprinkled throughout the story. While some are great–“scumble” is what you do to control your savvy–others seemed overly cute and became tiresome by the end of the novel. I was pleased with the conclusion though. It’s bittersweet, striking a believable and appropriate middle ground between cloying sweetness and dark disappointment. I highly recommend this book to middle grade readers.
It’s worth noting that Savvy was up for the Newbery in the same year as The Graveyard Book. Having read these books back to back, I can see why The Graveyard Book won. The Graveyard Book has a deeper, more poignant tone than Savvy. It’s language is more consistently intriguing, and certain parts of it stirred my imagination much more than any part of Savvy. The Graveyard Book feels like a story that can be enjoyed by any age group, while I think Savvy is best appreciated by its intended middle grade audience.