I was trying to find a book to review for Valentine’s Day, but I thought I would go with an author instead. Deb Caletti is sort of like the West Coast Sarah Dessen. Both write so strongly and beautifully about teens, and also seem to have the ability to write honestly about teen relationships. But Caletti’s style and voice of her characters (I think all of her books are told in first person) have always made me search out her books – a new one usually comes out every year in the spring (I just checked and The Story of Us comes out in April!).
Although her second novel, Honey, Baby, Sweetheart was a National Book Award finalist, all of her books have received recognition and starred reviews, particularly her first, The Queen of Everything.
I wanted to write about The Nature of Jade (2007) in this review, but I have loved so much every book I’ve read by Deb Caletti.
The Nature of Jade is about Jade DeLuna, a Seattle teenager who keeps the live zoo webcam on in her room to watch the elephants. Jade has been diagnosed with Panic Disorder, and the realization of her condition is told in the first chapter, through a series of events. Jade explains what having a panic attack feels like:
“I’m gasping and I don’t even have enough air to cry out, same as the time in second grade when I landed hard on my back after falling off the jungle gym. I am aware, too aware, of my heartbeat, and then Oliver comes in. I’m panicking, shit, because I can’t breathe, and Oliver must see this in my eyes and he goes and runs and gets Aunt Beth. I hear him call her name, but it’s really far off, and I’m in this other world where there’s only this fear and this pain in my chest and no air and this feeling of Need Out!”
Visiting the zoo and watching the elephants on the webcam are ways that Jade stays calm and keeps the panic attacks at bay. But one day, while she’s sitting in her room watching the elephant enclosure from her computer, she notices a boy in a red jacket carrying a baby in a backpack. She starts to wonder who he is, comparing her curiosity to “The Airport Game,” where Jade says people sitting in an airport will ask themselves quiet questions about where the other people in the airport are going.
Jade gets to know the boy in the red jacket – Sebastian – as well as his son and his grandmother who all live together on a houseboat in the Seattle harbor. She is drawn into their complicated world, and finds herself understanding the feeling of being home when she’s with them.
Within the overarching story are so many small pockets of dialogue, every day events, and characters that make this novel so compelling. Oliver, Jade’s younger brother, always stands out for me in this story. Jade helps him fake sick before football practices (“Smush your bangs up with some hot water,” she tells him. “But get a move on. He’s coming. Call out for Mom. You’re so sick, remember? Bleh.”), which he hates (but he loves Narnia and C.S. Lewis).
The novel ends at the beginning of Jade’s own independence, and leaves off with this last paragraph:
“Below, my past life looks like Dad’s train set. Tiny houses, small winding roads, water you could fit into a cup and drink.
"We soar higher, climb. The miniature town below disappears as we lift above the clouds. Life and our love for others is a balancing act, I understand then; a dance between our instinct to be safe and hold fast, and our drive to flee, to run – from danger, toward new places to feed ourselves.”
If you haven’t read a book by Deb Caletti yet, I would really recommend picking one up. The characters, dialogue, and the easy, conversational narration by the Caletti’s protagonists make her novels so worth reading.