Wednesday, June 11, 2008

The Nature of Jade by Deb Caletti


Caletti, Deb. 2007. The Nature of Jade.

When you live one and a half blocks away from a zoo like I do, you can hear the baboons screeching after it gets dark. It can scare the crap out of you when you're not used to it, as I found out one night after we moved in. (5)

Jade, our narrator, is a girl with a fondness--a semi-obsession--with elephants. She loves to visit the zoo, of course, and she also loves to watch the elephants online on the zoo's web cam.

Watching them isn't always thrilling and action packed, but I don't care. See, what I really like is that no matter what high-stress thing is going on in my world as a whole (Christmas, SATs, natural disasters, plane crashes, having to give a speech and being worried to death I might puke), there are the elephants, doing their thing. Just being themselves. Eating, walking around. They aren't having Christmas, or giving a speech, or stressing over horrible things in the news. They're just having another regular elephant day. Not worrying, only being. (7)

One day while watching the elephants on her computer, she sees a boy--a teen boy--with a baby. He's in a red jacket.

You pass a bunch of people in a day--people in their cars, in the grocery store, waiting for their coffee at an espresso stand. You look at apartment buildings and streets, the comings and goings, elevators crawling up and down, and each person has their own story going on right then, with its cast of characters; they've got their own frustrations and their happiness and the things they're looking forward to and dreading. And sometimes you wonder if you've crossed paths with any of them before without knowing it, or will one day cross their path again. But sometimes, too, you have this little feeling of knowing, this fuzzy, gnawing sense that someone will become a major something in your life. You just know that theirs will be a life you will enter and become part of. I feel that sense, that knowing, when I look at this boy and this baby. It is a sense of the significant. (10).

But Jade isn't just a girl who likes animals--likes the zoo. She's a girl with an anxiety disorder.

It wasn't like I panicked every time I was somewhere high up, or in an enclosed space, or during a storm. It could be none of those things, or all of them. I could (can) panic in a car, a new situation, any time a person feels a twinge of nerves. It's a twisted version of Green Eggs and Ham: I could panic in a train! I could panic on a plane! I could panic on the stairs--I could panic anywhere! (17)

It goes on to say:

People who have these panic attacks sometimes have "social anxiety," which means, basically, you don't want to go out in the world. But I think sometimes they've got their cause and effect screwed up. Would you want to get on a bus if you thought your body might do this? Would you want to be in a crowd of people? Sitting in Math? That kind of fear, that kind of physical out-of-control is . . . well, private. Anyway, I am not my illness. "Girl with Anxiety," "Trauma of the Week"--no. I hate stuff like that. Everyone, everyone, has their issue. (17-18)

I like that Jade doesn't let this issue define her. She doesn't let it control her. It's there. It's never completely gone. But she is so much more than just a girl with anxiety.

The book is in some ways your typical teen novel. Girl likes boy. Girl wants boy to notice her. Girl gets excited when he does. Girl has friends to talk and gossip with, etc. But most typical teen novels with high school narrators aren't focused on elephants, zoos, and volunteering. Most love-interests in these kinds of books aren't single fathers or sole caretakers of young children. So it is a YA romance novel. But it's a bit more than just a YA romance novel. And like many YA books it deals with a teen defining and redefining herself. Finding out who she is and what she wants and seeking out, discovering, what it will take to get there.

I loved this novel. I did. I would read certain passages and they would just ring true. The inner-thoughts of a girl with anxiety? So right on. So true. So authentic.

My inside voice too often screams unreliable things at me, misinformation--that I am in danger, that someone I love is in danger, that now is the time to panic, to flee. I am happy, because it is just so good to know that it can give a whispered message, a simple, quiet knowing, and that it can be right. (34)

I just love the style. I think Caletti definitely has a gift with words...

Every big happening has a moment of plunge, that moment of decision, usually instantaneous even if you've been thinking about it forever. That now! Toes at the edge of the pool, looking at the water, one toe in, looking some more, and then, suddenly, you're in, and it's so cold, but nice, too, and you don't even remember where in there you decided to jump. (104-105)

So, I'd definitely recommend this one.

http://www.debcaletti.com/index.php

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