Three Short (For Us) Co-Reviews:
Tales of Mibs, Matisse, and Keeper

h1 July 2nd, 2008 by Eisha and Jules

Good morning, all. Here’s what 7-Imp has to offer today: Three short (for us) co-reviews of some new titles. One is for middle-grade readers; the second for YA readers; and the last one is an actual adult fiction title, making our count for adult fiction reviews a whoppin’ 24 now! Yes, we initially set out to talk about books for all ages at 7-Imp, but we’ve been slacking on our adult titles. Edward Hardy’s Keeper and Kid, our last review here, is one attempt to remedy that.

by Ingrid Law
Dial Books for Young Readers
May 2008

This wonderful book was released in May, and Eisha and I have been sitting on ARCs for a while. Before we got to our review, it up and won a Boston Globe-Horn Book Honor in the category of Fiction and Poetry. Savvy, unlike any other book you’ll read this year, tells the story of Mississippi, or “Mibs,” Beaumont. She’s about to turn thirteen, and in her family that’s when the savvy strikes. A savvy, in their world, is “just a know-how of a different sort.” Not knowing what her savvy powers will be—but knowing full well she’s likely in for a huge surprise, since her brother can cause hurricanes, her other brother creates electricity, and her mother is truly perfect—Mibs is just a tad bit anxious about the birthday event. It’s even difficult for her to make friends: “It wasn’t safe to invite anyone over with Fish and Rocket still learning to scumble their savvies; we couldn’t risk someone finding out, or getting hurt by sparks or storms if my brothers lost control.” Yes, that said scumble, which means to learn to use your savvy or work around it; with words like that, you can see that this one’s definitely a read-aloud CHAMP.

To make matters worse, Mibs’s father is in a terrible accident the day before her party, and she now longs to discover she possesses a savvy which will save her father’s life. When she finds out it’s an entirely different and unexpected one, she has to adjust, though in the process she comes to understand a bit about hearing one strong voice in her head—her own—and tuning out others’. And when she stows away on a delivery bus which carries pink Bibles, only to eventually be joined by the preacher’s son and his sister with Quite The Attitude—a bus that heads in the altogether wrong direction—she’s gotta find a way to get to her Poppa.

eisha: This was a fun read. It has that kind of folksy tall-tale language we both dig, with fabulously far-fetched metaphors like… oh, I’ll just open to a page at random… like this: “Momma exhaled a long, slow breath, like she was singing the last note of a lullaby, and my heart almost broke with the total sadness of it.” There’s also frequent use of delicious-on-the-tongue words like “persnickety” and “frou-frou frippery.” Awesome.

I also liked the concept. I love a story that can introduce a bit of the fantastical into an everyday setting, and this one pulls it off nicely. The idea of a family of extra-specially-abled people is irresistibly cool, but the author does a good job of painting a realistic picture of what that would really mean: balancing out the benefits of, say, being able to generate electricity or control the weather with the sort of drawbacks that any kid can relate too: being different from other kids, having to hide who you are to fit in, and having family members who can embarrass the heck out of you in public.

What did you think?

Jules: Loved it. So much. This book is chock full ‘o’ moments and imagery and language and characters and more that won’t leave my head for a while: Grandma Dollop and her canning of radio waves; the phrase “froufrou frippery,” as you already mentioned, to describe those mean girls’ hair and when Mibs says that someone “wanted the full hokeypokey” on her savvy (I’m SO going to lift those phrases); when Mibs describes Carlene as looking like a “witch dressed up for Halloween as a movie star”; the phrase “jibber-jabber wailing” (I suppose I wasn’t done raving about Law’s creative wordplay in the book); the wonderfully hyperbolic, tall-tale-esque metaphors, as you mentioned, such as “I had a feeling in my chest like my heart was breaking up, like it was turning into nothing more than a big ball of melon that could dissolve into little watery chunks at any moment”; the book’s quick pacing; and all of the vividly-drawn characters (but particularly Lill and Lester).

A film is in the works, I believe, and we’re also very evidently set up for a sequel, thank goodness. An impressive debut. And Little Willow interviewed the author in May; that link is here. Betsy Bird also interviewed Law fairly recently, too, in the recent Summer Blog Blast Tour for those interested in that. It’s here (scroll down to get to the interview). Finally, there was a March interview here at Look Books.

Also, apparently from July 14th to July 18th, Penguin is going to provide Savvy for free as an eBook. That’s right — no cost to readers. I think the details might still be under construction, but the eBook should be available here on the Savvy site. (Thanks to Leila for the info.)

* * * * * * *

Alive and Well in
Prague, New York

by Daphne Grab
June 2008

Matisse Osgood is a New York City girl at heart. Big-time. But, when her dad gets ill and she and her parents, both artists, move to Prague, a small, rural town in upstate New York, she aches for her former life on West 78th Street — with a father who is healthy and a mother who isn’t in denial about what their family is suddenly facing. To make matters worse, rumors start to spread at her new high school — rumors about her father and why he’s ill. And Matisse can’t seem to make any friends, with a few exceptions, including Hal, her neighbor she likes to call “farm boy.” As Matisse takes a cue from her mother and tries to avoid thinking about her father’s Parkinson’s disease, the people she least suspects to help her with her grief over her father’s diagnosis step up to open her mind, ease her worries, and help her accept what she can’t control.

Jules: What’d you think, Eisha? I attended what could probably be considered a small-town high school, which was literally in the middle of a cow pasture, and so I could relate to some of Matisse’s frustrations. And, overall, I thought it was a touching story—especially the narrative thread with her father and his illness—with vividly-realized, fully-rounded characters. One thing I liked, in particular, was Matisse’s exploration in really getting to know the people at her new high school, her ability to finally look beyond type and see people for who they really are (such as, when she finally figured out that there’s more to Hal than just “farm boy”), though it took her quite a while. I would have appreciated this book in high school, for that very reason, and I’d enthusiastically recommend it to teens who also are weary with being labelled, with stereotypes, with cliques.

eisha: I’d agree. The situation with Matisse’s family was incredibly moving, and a bit different from other terminal-illness books I’ve encountered. I thought the tension between Matisse and her mom, who was utterly crushed but trying to keep up a façade of normality, was especially well-drawn. The way Matisse closed herself off from her former best friend to avoid her own emotions was good, too. And, like you, I appreciated seeing Matisse being forced by her small-town surroundings to seek friends outside her usual type. I had a similar experience going from a pretty big high school to our tiny little private liberal arts college, and found it incredibly rewarding, just like Matisse. I mean, hey, that’s how we met, and we’re still BFFs, right?

Jules: You know it, E. And I wanted to quickly add: The author, Daphne Grab (a member of the Class of 2k8), has been doing some interviewing around Blogistan, too. There’s Little Willow’s interview here; HipWriterMama’s interview, which includes a whole heap of writing tips; MotherReader’s interview here; the interview at sea heidi write; and probably a lot more I’m missing.

* * * * * * *

Keeper and Kid
by Edward Hardy
Thomas Dunne Books
January 2008

This, Edward Hardy’s second novel, tells the story of James Keeper—a “30-something {living a} quasibohemian life,” as Publishers Weekly put it. James, who goes by Keeper, is happy and comfortable. All is well: His business is good; he’s in love with Leah, his smart, passionate girlfriend; and he’s generally not burdened with too many pressures in life. Eight years prior, he fell in love with his upstairs neighbor in Boston, an outspoken pastry chef who is, at her core, quite secretive. They divorce, Keeper moves to Providence, and his life with Leah begins. When his former mother-in-law calls him out of the blue one day, everything changes, and Keeper comes home with an active, precocious three-year-old, a child his former wife never told him she had.

Jules: Eisha, wow, an actual adult novel. We haven’t reviewed one of those in a while. Anyway, I’m curious to know what a person-without-children thought of this. I thought that Hardy did a fine, fine job of nailing the relentless duties of parenting. My first experience of early parenthood was like Keeper’s (especially since I had a hyper-colicky baby who would let no one else hold her): feeling…

shackled and marooned and the world is getting smaller by the second. It’s like living under house arrest…It felt impossible to explain, the dailyness of it, the way there’s always something else you have to do, right now. It’s like running a restaurant on a leaky boat—trim the sail, fill the catsup bottles, fix the rudder, tie yourself to the mast, and do it all again fifteen minutes from now…It’s a stunning lack of liberty. You know where you used to be, you can see the shadow of how you used to live, but you can’t get there. It’s like owning a phantom limb.

Okay, that was long. And I might also sound like an ingrate parent. I promise I do see the joy in child-rearing (there’s a whole heapin’ ton of it on a daily basis), but—as I’ve said before at 7-Imp—I am also interested, from a contemporary sociological standpoint, in how parents feel like they can’t talk about the struggles, especially mothers. As if that makes us bad people. But I digress. Anyway, I pulled my favorite parenthood analogies from his writing and lumped ‘em together there up there; hence, the length of that excerpt.

I saw a snippet of Kirkus’ review of this book, and I like how they put it: Hardy “portrays the graceless experience of child-rearing with honesty and good humor.” I enjoyed the subtleties of Keeper’s metamorphosis – from seeing the addition of Leo to his life as “like developing a new chronic condition” to coming to understand that he could handle it after all, as well as finding the beauty and grace in it all, such as when his mother tells him, “{m}y Aunt Dot, who you never knew, would say that much of life is received rather than taken and your task is to receive it gracefully.” I thought his journey from always living in the future to getting stranded in the present—which is what he learns that kids will do to you—was pretty compelling. Yet, Hardy never gets too saccharine about it all; Keeper simply learns that “having a kid doesn’t make your life better. It does not improve your life, but it does make things richer.” Ah, nice. And so true.

But, if you don’t have kids, was it depressing, by chance?

eisha: Hey, that’s cheating! You’re only asking that ’cause I said so off-blog. But… yeah, I did find it depressing a lot of the time. Mainly for one reason: Keeper never flat out said that he loved his kid. He really didn’t even seem to bond with him. The closest we got was the quote you already mentioned, about having a kid making “things richer.” And another bit toward the end where he confronts Leo’s daycare teacher, because “all I cared about was making this one thing easier for the kid.” They’re nice moments, but they seem small in comparison to the rest of the novel, which is chock full of child-rearing disasters, and despair over all the lifestyle changes and losses that came with sudden parenthood. Maybe I’m being unrealistic, maybe I’m a big ol’ sap, but I really wanted that falling-in-love-with-Leo moment to happen – or to happen in a bigger way. Otherwise… well, geez, why would anyone want to raise a child?

Besides that, I did enjoy the narrative. Hardy has a laid-back style that I appreciate, and he’s got a real talent for metaphor – that quote you chose about “running a restaurant on a leaky boat” is a great example. It was a good read… but I don’t think I’ll be going off the pill anytime soon.

Jules: Hee. I see what you mean, but I will say that if Keeper had had a HUGE falling-in-love moment, I might have found it hard to swallow, since it’s not like this kid wasn’t dumped on him. Truly, he didn’t ask for this overactive toddler, and that’s gotta be rough on a person, especially one who wasn’t sure he ever wanted children. I would think all the never-ending compromise involved with raising a toddler would be multiplied threefold in intensity for someone who didn’t ask to be a father. For that reason, I found the very subtle children-make-things-richer moment just right. But, yeah, I hear ya. And I cheated by asking you that, yes. I’m sneaky that way.

Like you, I like Hardy’s style and would get in line to read whatever he does next. And, Eisha, did you know Hardy grew up in Ithaca? Fun fact.

Thanks for book-chatting with me. Until next time . . .

6 comments to “Three Short (For Us) Co-Reviews:
Tales of Mibs, Matisse, and Keeper”

  1. Hmmm. . . I think I have an ARC of Savvy around somewhere from ALA. Must dig it out, evidently, since the Boston Globe thing you mentioned said “poetry” in there somewhere. I remembered thinking it looked great when I picked it up, but I’ve been so locked into research and writing for my Jane project that I haven’t been reading nearly enough books this spring.

    My guess is that Keeper & Kid is less depressing to folks with kids because it sounds like Hardy dares to write about the downsides of having children, which almost nobody does, so I suspect there’s a catharsis to finding sympathy for those dark moments.

  2. So here I am catching up on blogs at the Reference Desk (which, whatever, my boss does it, so I can, too), and I read “I don’t think I’ll be going off the pill anytime soon” and laughed in a way that made the patrons all turn and look.

  3. Ooh, adrienne, sorry. I’ve done that a time or two myself.

  4. Kelly, word to the catharsis.

    Adrienne, I think I snort-laughed, too, when I read that.

  5. I really liked Savvy. So much fun.
    Hurrah for Daphne!
    I haven’t read Keeper…
    Adrienne, don’t choke.

  6. I’m so glad you liked Savvy as much as I did – though I’m even more glad that I liked Savvy as much as I did! I met Ingrid at the Minneapolis PLA in March and liked her a lot; she’s shy and unassuming though once you’ve read Savvy you wouldn’t be amazed to hear that a great sense of humour peeks through. Wish I’d had longer to chat to her (we had dinner after the Nim’s Island prescreening, so I was pretty wired!)
    The first sentence of the book was enough to convince me I liked it… and finally, after a series of misadventures, my ARC arrived last week, and the rest of the book was just as brilliant as the first sentence. Made me smile all day long.

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