Pros: Creative, humorous, touching story that uses the unusual to elucidate the ordinary
Cons: There isn't a sequel available yet.
Turning thirteen can be awkward for anyone, but for members of the Beaumont family, it can be downright dangerous. As her own thirteenth birthday approaches, Mississippi Beaumont (called "Mibs" by family and friends) anticipates a most peculiar rite of passage with a mixture of excitement and dread. In addition to eccentric names, Mibs, her siblings, and her mother's side of the family all share a secret--they all develop extraordinary abilities, called "savvies," on their thirteenth birthdays (though on rare occasions some family members develop a savvy when younger). Mibs's eldest brother, Rocket, creates his own electricity. Fish, another brother, can influence weather, particularly in the presence of water. On his thirteenth birthday, he inadvertantly caused a hurricane, which caused the family to move to a remote area between Nebraska and Kansas that they alternately call "Nebransas" or "Kansaka." Mibs's mother is practically perfect--she excels at whatever she does. Mibs's late grandmother could collect radio waves from the air and store them in jars to be enjoyed for years to come the way other grandmothers might capture the season's harvest in jams and sauces.
While the idea of developing a special power has a mysterious appeal, there are complications that need to be dealt with. Rocket and Fish can cause mayhem with their savvies if their mood isn't under control. Adolescence for the Beaumonts involves not only the typical growing pains, but learning to control whatever power one might develop, as well as dealing with the isolation necessary to protect outsiders from harm and themselves from prying eyes. Once a savvy emerges, a Beaumont child leaves public school for homeschool, where their mother can safely teach them reading, writing, 'rithmetic, and reeling in (or "scumbling") their savvy. Mibs doesn't really mind this notion, since kids at school tend to see her as a freak, the meaner ones making fun of her and creating rude versions of her name.
If this all weren't enough to cause Mibs stress, a car accident occurs just two days before Mibs's birthday and her beloved father is hospitalized in a coma. Mibs's mother and Rocket need to travel to Salina, Kansas, where her father is hospitalized (Rocket has to go because he can make the old car run). Fear for Mr. Beaumont's well-being eclipses Mibs's big day. Fish, Mibs, and their younger siblings, Samson and Gypsy are left at home with Grandpa Bomba (who can move mountains).
Miss Rosemary, the well-meaning but uptight preacher's wife inserts herself into the situation, showing up to cook and clean and care for the kids while their parents are away. She brings along her two kids, Bobbi, a teenager with a crush on Rocket who uses sarcasm and disdain to mask her own insecurities, and Will Junior (whose name perplexes Mibs--the preacher isn't named "Will"), a genuinely friendly and understanding boy who clearly has an interest in Mibs. The presence of these outsiders is problematic, since no one can anticipate what Mibs's savvy will be and how or when it will manifest itself. The situation is made worse when Miss Rosemary learns about Mibs's birthday and takes it upon herself to plan a big birthday party at the church, despite the family's objections, using her "connections" to wrangle parishoners and Mibs's classmates into showing up.
In the midst of her anguish over her father, Mibs practices wishful thinking. On the morning of her birthday she convinces herself that her savvy is the ability to wake things up, after her baby sister wakes up early and Samson's turtle (that everyone thought was dead) comes out of hibernation. With such a power, Mibs believes she could save her father and help him emerge from his coma, if only she could get to him. An avenue to Salina seems to present itself in the form of a bible delivery bus driven by a kind but browbeaten deliveryman named Lester. Mibs notices the company's name and the location of its headquarters (Salina, Kansas) on the side of the bus and decides she will stow away aboard so she can sneak away from Miss Rosemary and get her ailing father. However, Fish, Bobbi, and Will Junior catch her and when they all dive on board the bus to avoid being caught by Miss Rosemary, they all end up going along for the ride when the bus takes off. Samson ends up coming along too, since it is his habit to hide in quiet places, and he had been hiding on the bus when this happened.
Lester soon discovers their presence, but being meek, kindhearted, and somewhat dimwitted, he is easily convinced that they have a legitimate purpose and aren't sneaking away from anyone and allows them to come along. However, he isn't headed directly back to Salina and insists on completing a few deliveries first. Along the way, Mibs slowly comes to realize the surprising true nature of her savvy while Fish tries to control his own as they approach a body of water and Bobbi and Will Junior puzzle over and try to come to grips with what makes the Beaumonts different from everyone else. Mibs also has to deal with the attraction between herself and Will Junior, avoiding the authorities who are all on the lookout for the missing kids, Lester's conniving girlfriend, and Lill, a kind but troubled waitress who Lester stops to help when he sees her broken down on the side of the road.
This story is a wild ride, quite literally, and the quest to Salina forms a wonderful metaphor for the passage of Mibs from childhood to adulthood. There's never a dull moment in this story, but amazingly it never seems rushed, and while the situations are certainly unlikely, they manage to seem somehow plausible. The author, Ingrid Law, genuinely impressed me with her ability to portray the complexities of adolescence, the struggles of dealing with the potential loss of a loved one, learning to be comfortable with yourself (no matter what your age) and coming to terms with abilities that make one necessarily an outsider in a humorous, poignant, and believable way. I really enjoyed this book, and by the end I felt like the Beaumonts were my own eccentric family members and had come to appreciate the strengths and flaws of all the motley characters. I appreciated the less than perfect nature of the ending because it was more realistic and I liked the indication that there could be a sequel. If Law writes more stories about the Beaumonts, I will be eager to read them.
If you appreciate stories that teach you something about everyday human experience by focusing your view through the lens of the extraordinary, you'll enjoy this book.