Do you know that feeling? As a general rule, I love being someone who reads quickly. It's a great skill to employ in the face of "so many books, so little time." But today, I read a book I loved so much that I actually forced myself to lay it down periodically because I could not bear to finish the experience too quickly.
I did finish, though, despite my self-imposed stalling tactics, and just let it sink into my head and heart for a bit. (I had big plans to cut a major swath through the 30-odd books on my to-read shelf today, but was loathe to dilute this novel by taking in any more words for a while.) After I had a nice bit of basking in it, I got up and ordered my own permanent copy from Amazon. Now, I find myself wanting to convince everyone to share the pleasure of reading it for themselves.
Yet as I sit here at the keyboard, I realize how much more difficult it can be to write about a book that has "hit the spot" so deftly. A book that's made you laugh and cry and read portions aloud (to yourself, if no one is around with an open ear) and seemed to be speaking directly to you. It's such a personal and all-encompassing experience that it is (a) hard to dissect the feelings to get them down on paper and (b) scary to imagine others having a reaction less positive than you've had with the book. Easier to be light and breezy and just like a book than to have had this sort of bonding with one..... know what I mean?
But I am compelled to try to share it anyway, because of my reaction. And so, I will do my best to persuade you to also read and connect with Deb Caletti's newest novel The Nature of Jade.
Jade De Luna is a high school senior. Her life is complicated by panic disorder, for which she takes medication and sees a therapist. Her friends are all starting the journey to "after high school" by making choices about what parts of themselves and what dreams they've tried on to keep for that rite of passage. Her family's dynamic is also in flux - making it a less safe zone than in the past. Her anxiety makes her afraid to try new - or even old - things and places. She combats the jitters and nightmares with a variety of tools: a box of various Saints candles, a ritual of knocking three times on the doorjamb of her bedroom before entering it, and by leaving the webcam site in the elephant enclosure at the Seattle zoo up on her computer screen. The gentle beasts give her a sense of calm and wonder - a perfect antidote to her frayed edges. But it is a chance sighting of a zoo visitor on the webcam that alters her life - inevitably connecting her to new lives and new experiences that she would never have thought herself strong or brave enough to manage.
I seldom quote lines in a book chat, but this novel begs me to do so. (I stuck post-it flags in what I felt were just a few spots and now see there are more than thirty sticking out of the pages!) But a few will give a flavor of what so appeals to me in Caletti's style:
"But the one thing my illness did make me realize is how necessary it is to ignore the dangers of living in order to live. We all have to get up every morning and go outside and pretend we aren't going to die. We've got to get totally involved in what we're going to wear that day, and how pissed we are that another car cut us off, and how we wish we were in better shape, so we don't have to think about how little any of that really matters."
"Everyone is quiet on the way home. It is the edgy silence of unmet expectations. I can see everyone's reflections in the car windows. Mom with her hair that has gone from inappropriately frivolous to somehow ashamed; Dad, with his disappointed profile; Oliver, with his faraway face, lost in another place where children fought beasts way bigger than themselves and where potions fixed the worst evils."
"Mom has made a bowl of peanut butter cookie dough and is eating it off the tip of her finger. Cookie making is never simply cookie making. It is a direct result of an elevated mood, good or bad. It is either joy inspired (see the related French Toast Incident previously described), or depression inspired - PMS, broken heart, listless boredom, agitation that can only be cured by the near inhalation of fat and sugar. The clues - no baking sheets out yet, the oven still cold - means this is not about joy."
" I realize that there is a stretch of freeway, a few miles between the airport and town, that is so laden with sadness and bittersweet joy, hundreds and thousands of comings and goings and the loss of change and moving on, so much emotion seeped into the pavement and surrounding earth on those trips of dropping off departing loved ones, that it should be called the Zone of Heartbreak."
" I hold up the moments with Sebastian, gaze at them again with a gentle eye, with careful hope. I do the necessary work of falling in love, that time spent alone with your imagination. "
I felt this strongly about Deb Caletti's book Honey, Baby, Sweetheart, too. I admire the interior of the young women she creates. They are a true blend of vulnerability and bravado, on the cusp of life shifts that they both long for and fear. The others peopling the novels are well-drawn and crisp in their own right -- down to the most minor. (Even Jade's dog Milo is a wonderful soul.) Caletti infuses the narrative with a litany of things: philosophy, teen parenthood, Narnia, sports culture, the wonders of Seattle, therapy speak, selected quotes from a scholarly text on animal behavior - and it works. Beautifully.
So, please, treat your reader's soul to this wonderful novel.
Just remember to make it last by reading very, very slowly.