With Savvy, Ingrid Law bets everything on a single conceit, the
idea of a family whose members each possess a unique, sometimes whimsical,
sometimes supernatural, talent, which manifests itself on the bearer's
thirteenth birthday. Law asserts that her characters' talents or savvys
are "not... sorcery," but an "inheritance, like brown eyes or... [a]
talent for dancing to polka music ..." However, because of the 'magical' element
to the story, bookstores may feel obligated to market it on the Fantasy shelf
and readers expecting extravagant otherworldliness will be disappointed.
Mibs's mother explains that, "a savvy is just a know-how of a different sort... a different flavor." And, she asserts, while the Beaumonts' talents are spectacular, they're not the only ones who possess bewildering and wonderful gifts: "Some people know they feel different... but most don't know quite what makes them that way. One person might make strawberry jam so good that no one can get enough of it. Another might know just the right time to plant corn..."
The Beaumonts's gifts are weirder and more powerful than a knack for making delicious jam. It is difficult for Fish, Mib's brother, to keep strong feelings to himself: When he's angry or upset and near a body of water, his feelings summon clouds, wind, rain, hail, even hurricanes. Rocket, Mibs's electrically-charged older brother, has anxieties that literally spark, and his emotions can blow-out the power grid. Here, Law's conceit is especially illuminating: the adolescent boys struggle to accept and learn to control, or scumble, their savvys, in the same way all teenagers struggle to know themselves and master new and often volatile emotions. Other savvys that Law bestows are less interesting or more whimsical: Mrs. Beaumont's savvy is the ability to do things perfectly; Grandpa Dollop's strong feelings are literally earth-shattering: he can make the earth rumble and alter landscapes; Mibs's late grandmother could capture sounds and music in glass jars.
Law doesn't explicate the illogic that the Beaumont savvys force upon her plot, such as how Rocket can cause a city-wide power outage that doesn't include the hospital; or how perfect Mrs. Beaumont can make a mistake but it doesn't matter. In Law's hands, the savvy idea feels just right. Young readers will identify with Mibs's excitement and anxiety as her climactic thirteenth birthday approaches: What will her savvy be? Who is she on the brink of becoming? What are her gifts and how is she to use and to control them? Law beautifully captures the full-to-bursting hope and worry that inform this precipitous moment in every young life.
I don't want to lessen the suspense by revealing Mibs's savvy, except to say that with it Law once again finds just the right mix of comedy and pathos. What's especially smart is that Mibs's gift is important, interesting, and accessible. I admire the earthiness that Law bestows upon the magical Beaumont family, and the magic with which she graces "ordinary" folk with whom Mibs and her family share the world: "We Beaumonts are just like other people 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." Although "being different ran through [their] veins," the Beaumonts are important not because they're wizards in a world of Muggles, but because they're imperfect. In Savvy, Law reminds us that when embraced with wholehearted love, even the imperfect is magical.
This review was originally published in June 2008, and has been updated for the March 2010 paperback release. Click here to go to this issue.
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