Friday, October 10, 2008

Savvy: a review

by Ingrid Law

Savvy is a quirky story that goes straight to the heart.

Children in the Beaumont family get their savvy on their 13th birthday. Mibs’s grandmother captured radio waves, her grandfather forms new lands, and one of her brothers creates electricity. On her 13th birthday, Mibs ends up on a road trip in a pink school bus with several involuntary fellow travelers.

Even though these special abilities may give the impression that this story is not reality-based, the author uses the fantastical elements to relate to our un-savvied, ordinary world. In the words of Mibs’s mother:

“We get born, and sometime later we die. And in between, we’re happy and sad, we feel love and we feel fear, we eat and we sleep and we hurt like everyone else.”

And Mibs comes to the realization herself later, that:

“We Beaumonts are just like other people...” and that:

“...savvy is just a know-how of a different sort.”

This realization plays a role in the resolution of a big problem that occupies Mibs’s mind most of the book.

The main characters are fully-fleshed and likeable, from the narrator, Mibs; to her brothers, Fish and Samson; the haughty teenager Bobbi; the fearful bus driver, Les; and the big-hearted waitress, Lil. [Spoiler alert]I was, however, suspicious of Will Junior all the way through. All his winks and smiles at Mibs make me super protective of young Mibs. When he turned out to be a good guy, I was relieved.

I love the tenderness and care demonstrated among the Beaumont family members. So many books show siblings who can’t stand one another or young people who are impatient and scornful of their parents. Many of these books are well written but they inevitably leave a bad taste in my mouth. Score one for Ingrid Law for writing about loving and strong family relationships.

The author’s language is lively and all her own, and for me, this is the most and least attractive element of the book. She has some amazing metaphors and similes and out-of-the-box descriptions. Here are a few that I like:

“ a blinding explosion of brilliant blue sparks, like the Fourth of July without the red or the white.”

“Fish gave me a...look that said Now What? with a This-Was-a-Stupid-Idea tag to it.”

“...adding two and two and getting twenty seven...”

But sometimes the degree of quirkiness and uniqueness is dialed too high to where it draws too much attention to itself and away from the story:

“...had her own set of rights and wrongs—like matching suitcases she made other people carry—and she took it upon herself to make everything and everyone as shipshape and apple-pie as she felt the Lord had intended them to be.”

“His breath a loud mix of bluster and buffalo wings.”

Or they go over the top:

“...his voice galled and glum yet surprisingly tuneful like a country western singer yodeling atop a cactus tree.”
Country western singer and yodeling and cactus?

“He struck me as a fellow whose gears might turn a bit slower..., a man whose thinking cap had gotten shrunk in the wash and now fit his brain a notch too tight.”

Then there is the author’s tendency/choice to use repetition:

“I drum, drum, drummed my fingers...”
“I was sure I was sure.”
“...moody-broody self.”
“...closed tight tight tight.”
“...began to hum hum hum hum hum.”
“...the car gurgled and gargled.”
“...tatty ratty seats...”
“...whack of a quack...”
In the same paragraph, something is described as “itty-bitty” at the beginning and then “teeny-tiny” at the end.
“I could do nothing nothing nothing for Poppa.”

Repetition is an effective highlight. In this case, I can see how the nothing x 3 can convey the girl’s hopelessness and heartbreak. But because repetition has been used so much by then it no longer packed the same punch.

Some of you disagree with me and consider all these phrases fabulous. I can only reply that it’s a matter of taste. Others of you wonder why I like the first lot but not the second. Taste, again, and it’s all in the first reaction. A phrase can delight, sadden, or make me think, or it can take me out of the story. The ones I like did the former and the ones I don’t like did the latter. My reactions are completely subjective and dependent on whatever mechanisms that work together to create first impressions.

I wonder how much of the author’s use of language is the result of the publishing industry’s search for the Unique Voice. We read so often of agents and publishers being captured by a certain something—difficult to describe, yet unmistakable when present—that makes them fall in love with a book. Did the author dial up her uniqueness, consciously or subconsciously, because of that?

I hope not. I hope that this is her voice. Even though I am distracted at times, I hope she’s taking her own advice, given by Mom in this book, about scumbling, or controlling, a savvy:

“ like spreading a thin layer of paint over yourself...If you use too much paint, you’ll not only obscure your savvy completely, but most everything else in life will become dull and uninteresting for you too. You can’t get rid of part of what makes you you and be happy.”

If this way of writing is Ingrid Law’s savvy, then I hope she stays with it. Because with it, she conveys warmth and generosity, and creates a story that is grounded in the things that matter: love, faith, and hope.


Cheryl Reif said...

Thank you for your book reviews. Your blog keeps pointing me toward just the sort of book I love to read--and encouraging me to stop writing, occasionally, and go enjoy some reading, too! ~Cheryl

Yat-Yee said...

Thanks for letting me know! I write in my blog, mainly for my own benefit, but it is gratifying to know that occasionally something I write elicits a response.

Best to your writing.

Chen,Shun-Chuan said...
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