Being thirteen is fraught with danger. Boys, girls, teachers, homework, bullies, parents, vengeful body chemistry. It’s a minefield. And middle grade literature is overflowing with books that take all the awkwardness and uncertainty of adolescence and funnel them into fiction to help you through the years. There’s realistic fiction like Judy Blume’s Are You There God, It’s Me Margaret? and then there are books that take the fantastic road, using magic, mystery and the supernatural as a background to all the teenage/tweenage angst. These are books like Wendy Mass’ Finally, a novel in which a newly minted twelve-year-old Rory finally gets all the things she’s been waiting for, to disastrous results, and Louis Sachar’s Holes, which takes hapless Stanley Yelnats on a journey to discover the magic of his past and the possibility of his future. Even the “X-Men” comic book series has been exploring the road bumps of youth through uncanny powers for over forty years. In a similar vein comes Ingrid Law and Scumble, a companion to her Newbery honor book, Savvy.
It’s hard enough being thirteen without also having a savvy to deal with, a supernatural talent that manifests itself on that first teenage birthday, but that’s just what Ledger Kale faces after when his savvy makes itself known by breaking apart machinery into all its smallest parts. And things only get worse. Ledge goes from dismantling stopwatches and windshield wipers to totaling a vintage Harley Knucklehead motorcycle outside a gas station, all by accident. But worse still is not the destruction, but Sarah Jane Cabot, an investigative girl who witnesses Ledge’s destruction and stows away in the family van as the Kales travel to a wedding, hoping to find more unusual occurrences to put in her self-made newspaper, “The Sundance Scuttlebutt”. After a disastrous end to the wedding celebration, Ledge and his little sister Fedora are left at the Flying Cattleheart, a family ranch, until he learns to scumble, or control, his savvy. With the weight of a savvy he doesn’t want or understand, the burden of protecting a family secret from nosy neighbor Sarah Jane and the task of retrieving a treasured family heirloom, it’s no wonder that Ledge gets overwhelmed.
With Savvy, Law had the perfect mixture of other-worldly and ordinary, and with Scumble she has come very close to that level. Ledger is a likeable hero, with self doubts that everyone can relate to, and even the clumsy among us can understand his destructive-at-first savvy. Law handles all of Ledge’s frustration and exasperation with a steady hand; though he “cusses” often, he’s not a bad boy. There’s a good heart beating at his core, one that keeps him on the straight and narrow, even when he’s walking the line of breaking the rules. The supporting cast offers its own treasures in Ledge’s cousins and his uncle Autry, the bug charmer. But Ledge is the star of the show, and it is his journey and his successes that we ultimately celebrate. I enjoyed the ride, and was with Ledge every step of the way. Here’s hoping Law has more stories of savvy to share with the world.
Scumble by Ingrid Law
2010, Dial Books