I love being a part of the Kid Lit Exchange because I wind up finding out about and reading books that I might never have found on my own. Even more likely, without the KLE, I would find a book, put it on my never ending TBR list, and might never get to it. But with books being mailed to me and an expectation to mail them on, I read things in a more timely manner. My latest great find is The Jigsaw Jungle by Kristin Levine.
The basic premise of the book is that Claudia’s father, Jeff, disappears one night. Some days later, a postcard arrives apologizing and saying he needs a little time to think things through. In the meantime, Claudia’s mother has to go to Switzerland for work, so Claudia has to stay with her grandfather who doesn’t talk much. Claudia and her father have a love of doing puzzles together and after she arrives at her grandfather’s house she receives a cryptic message from her father and a single puzzle piece.
What comes next is a journey that she hopes will bring her father home and that will also change her life. With her new friend Luis, who is spending the summer with his mother and step-father across the street, and her grandfather, they all set out to solve the mystery left by her dad. While all of this is happening, she manages to finally forge a relationship with her grandfather who is still mourning the loss of his beloved Lily and who was a parent who watched from the sidelines instead of participating.
Kristin Levine created something truly special with this book. The story is told through emails, transcripts of text messages, phone calls, and home videos. There are jumps between present day and when Jeff was a kid. This is a book about understanding the people around you and also being willing to take time to learn more about yourself. While Jeff left the family so that he could sort things through, by leaving clues for Claudia to sort out, he helped her and his own father understand him more. The reality is that in some ways our lives can all be seen as puzzles that we don’t have a full description of; we need to gather all of the pieces in order to see the bigger picture. On the other hand, our puzzles are fluid and we can’t force a piece in where it doesn’t fit, we have to allow the people around us to find their own paths.
Claudia’s grandfather, Papa, might be the one who takes the biggest journey in this book. At the start, he struggled to communicate with himself and with others. He had always let his wife be the one who connected people and kept them engaged. But it was almost like he got a second chance to participate in life by joining on the hunt with Claudia and Luis.
Jigsaw Jungle is also very much about family. What do you do when someone you love just disappears, whether emotionally or physically. What are the repercussions when parents divorce? Luis lives primarily with his father, but spends the summer with his mother, and he realizes that his parents being separated is a good thing, but he has had a long time to come to terms with it. What about when your parents have a new baby? We think about how little kids react to a new sibling, but what about a 12 year old who is suddenly a big sister? Even Papa gets a better understanding of the importance of family when he watches old home movies with Claudia and realizes how he didn’t get in and play with his son and was always trying to get him to participate in sports or be more like him instead of encouraging Jeff to pursue whatever made him happy.
All of the kids in this book – Claudia, Luis, and Kate – are still putting their puzzles together and the pictures are not turning out exactly as they had planned. Claudia never expected her father might leave them and Kate is getting a new baby brother at 12. Luis wants a career in film making that his mother doesn’t understand. But they all help each other through the chaos which is teenage life. At the end, Claudia aptly says: “And so I decided I’ll just have to get used to the pieces I’ve been given, even if they don’t form the picture I had imagined they would.”
The Jigsaw Jungle is a book not to be missed. It was one of those books that I simply couldn’t put down. It was full of its own mystery and suspense, but also incredibly full of heart.