By Ingrid Law
Walden Media, 2008
is a children's fantasy
story. It is currently quite popular (and deservedly so), although it is not as wide in its appeal as recent popular series such as The Lightning Thief
, being slightly less adventure-movie-y in spirit. As the series continues to expand, I hope that it will continue to grow in popularity.
Savvy tells the tale of the Beaumont family, part of a large clan of magic users. They are not witches or wizards, however, but simply a family that happens to be prone to suddenly and irrevocably sprouting a magic power on their 13th birthday. This power might be almost anything -- the power to create storms, produce electricity, convince people of anything, or break through any lock. There is no way of knowing what it might be before hand, and worse, when it first appears the owner of the power has little or no control over it. The Beaumonts currently live on the Kansas-Nebraska border because one of their sons developed the power to create storms, a power that is nearly uncontrollable and rages out of control near bodies of water.
The story focuses primarily on Mississippi Beaumont, a young girl who is just approaching her 13th birthday. This might be an exciting enough event to build a story around, but just before her birthday her father gets into a serious car accident, putting him into a coma; the children's mother takes off to the hospital to watch over him, leaving the Beaumont children in the hands of the local pastor and his wife. The real adventure begins, however, when Mississippi decides that her new-found talent might be able to wake her father, and manages to accidentally convince two of her siblings and the pastor's two children to stow away on the bus of a travelling Bible salesman in order to find their way to the hospital.
This book is targeted at the pre-teen to young teen market (about 9-15; it has an ATOS grade level of 6.0), and in addition to an exciting tale of magic it also includes a lot of milquetoast sixth-grade angst. This is not a bad thing at all, but it does limit the audience of the novel a bit; it is not nearly as adventurous as many popular series, and teens and tweens are becoming more and more used to reading about romance at the level of The Hunger Games, making Savvy's nearly normal tales of teasing peers, a first kiss, and an adventure that doesn't involve saving the world, seem rather old-fashioned. But in a good way.
Despite being written for young teens, it has a very rich text, with plenty of descriptive adjectives, unusually complex grammatical structure, and a surprisingly high vocabulary level -- words like froufrou and frippery and foofaraw are par for the course. But it's all done in a light and easy style that makes for quick and fun reading. Despite what Amazon might imply by claiming that it is 342 pages long, this is a rather short book. It has small pages, being smaller than the average children's trade hardcover, and it doesn't skimp on the page margins either. I would guess that in an more traditional layout it would come in close to 200 pages, if that. This makes for a very quick and easy read, without sacrificing the quality of the writing.
I quite liked Savvy, and many children agree with me. It has a well-developed and intriguing system of magic, and it is both well-written and fun. The level of adventure and drama is comparatively low; no big scary bad guys, no noble quests or battles for survival, and even the magic doesn't take the flashy traditional forms of dragons or broomsticks. It's just these kids, making the best of an unusual situation. It reminds me a bit of the Zilpha Keatley Snyder stories I read as a kid. It talks in a down-to-Earth way about coming of age, experiencing one's first romance, and having a parent in the hospital, without being overly dramatic about them. It may not be your (or your kids') sort of thing, but then again it may be. It is well worth a try.
Savvy currently has one sequel, Scumble, which follows another branch of the Savvy clan and introduces new characters. It is very much the same sort of story, although set nine years later and with (mostly) new characters.
Savvy won the Newbery Honor Award in 2009.