Over the recent holiday break I started Patrick Ness’s Chaos Walking series. When I finished the first book, I was destroyed because I didn’t have the next two ready and waiting for me.
The next morning I threw my girlgoyels into the car and raced to Tattered Cover Colfax, the only store in driving distance that had copies of all 3 Chaos Walking books stocked and on the shelves.
I bought them out.
To bribe, I mean thank, my children I told them I would buy them each a book while we were there.
It wasn’t much of a bribe considering Santa had just delivered each of them a STACK of new books, but… luckily my kids are readers, so it worked.
My oldest took a while to settle on the right book, but she finally picked Jake and Lily by Jerry Spinelli, the author of Maniac Magee (and more recently, Stargirl) – but more importantly, the author of a book called Egg which just might be my daughter’s favorite book ever. She buys copies of that like I buy copies of Holes.
I haven’t read Egg yet. She hasn’t trusted me enough to loan me her copy and let me take it all the way downstairs where she might never see it again. Or something.
But, she did ask me, tell me, to read Jake and Lily and gave me her copy when she was done with it.
She was right.
It’s a great book – here’s the premise: Jake and Lily are twins. But they’re more than that. They’re special. They can… hear each other, feel each other, know about each other – even when they’re miles apart. They also wake up every morning on their birthday at the train station, they were born on a train see, in the Moffat Tunnel!
They name their special power Goombla.
But then, one summer… They start growing up. Their parents decide it’s time for separate rooms – and that leads to separate lives.
Jake takes up with the town bullies. And Lily is left trying to find her place in the world without her brother. And the further they drift apart, the less Goombla they have.
For both characters it is a summer of self-discovery. A summer of learning who their true, core, person is. What they want, what they don’t want, who they want to be – and how they want to be that person.
The leader of the bullies takes the crew on a hunt for “Goobers”, or as many of us might call them, dorks. And then, one day, they find a super goober. “Soop” for short.
They can’t resist the lure of a super goober and end up spending day after day standing at this fence watching him build a crooked play fort. Everything they throw at him gets deflected back, like this goober is some sort of emotional Judo expert.
In the end, Jake has to pick a side – He has to choose between becoming a real bully, or accepting that maybe there’s a little bit of goober in all of us…
Meanwhile Lily starts to find her own wings, her own passions and loves. They were there all along, only without her brother, she didn’t have anyone to share them with. Most of the other girls her age are into makeup and looking pretty. Lily is the burp champion of the world and likes riding her bike, building houses with her parents and playing with snakes and bugs. She has to learn how to be all of that – alone… Unless she can find someone as special as her brother to share it with.
Here’s what I LOVED about this book:
First – you knew this was coming – from a feminist stand point Jerry Spinelli did a great job depicting both Lily and Jake. Neither one conformed completely to the rigid gender roles our society has tried to box boys and girls into. Jake & Lily’s parents are BOTH house builders. BOTH kids get a new tool from them every year for their birthday. BOTH kids are expected to know how to use them. And… BOTH kids are expected to have and express their emotions. Though, a brief allowance is made for Jake while he explores the “boy box” for a while. There is also a powerful and heartbreaking moment that I recognized all too well when Lily is told that she can’t play with him and his friends because she’s a girl.
“I am NOT a girl!” she shouts after them. And oh, how I remember being that girl, the one who thought I had to man up to hang out with the guys, the one who thought I had to renounce my sex and gender in order to be a cool person, the one who thought that “boy” was the default, and “girl” was defective… The one who had SO much to prove…
Second – I really, really, REALLY liked the way this book looked at and talked about bullying. I don’t think it ever actually used that word, which is good because – well, that word has been given WAY too much play lately, turning every act of childhood thoughtlessness into a case of bullying.
This book takes a really sweet kid, and a couple of run of the mill kids and one kid with a whole lot to prove, and no role model for how to prove it – and has them collide with a kid who knows from bullying. A kid whose spirit, whose intense super-gooberness they just Can. Not. Squelch. And… It changes everything.
Last – I saw what this book did to my daughter, who is in 5th grade, and is (in my adult opinion) overly concerned with how other people perceive her, talk about her, talk to her… and I knew I had to read it. Now that I have, it’s like the two of us have a semi-secret language. Safe words, if you will. Or perhaps just a little Goombla of our own…
She can call me a Goober – and I know that I’m embarrassing her, but also that… in the midst of her embarrassment, she’s also proud of me, looking up to me, soaking in the example of living life as yourself, out loud – and damn the consequences. And I can call her a Goober and let her know that I SEE her – all of her – and LOVE ALL OF IT, the whole package. I can call her a Goober when she’s doing something remarkable, special, something outside of the tiny little box her 5th grade society wants to cram her into… and that – she should keep doing it. Keep living it. Keep finding HER smiles inside herself, and keep sharing them with the world – because even though they don’t understand yet… If she’s patient, they’ll catch up.
This is a really powerful book for any kid going through those stages of self-discovery and trying to balance it with fitting in. The book alternates chapters between Jake and Lily as they both share their stories of the summer they *almost* drifted apart…
I really cannot recommend this book highly enough – but… And this is a really important but – I really, really think that parents should read it too. Not to screen for content, but to be able to have another tool to bring yourself closer to your kiddos. To give yourself some perspective, a refresher course if you will, on what it’s like to be a kid, on peer pressure, and pressure to conform, and the need for support in breaking out of the box so that kids can find the strength to be themselves against all odds.
I suspect this book will soon make the list of compulsive buys. At the very least, I’ll be making sure the school library has a copy, or two, on hand. In the meantime, I’m stealing my daughter’s copy of Egg and giving it a read. If it’s even half as good as Jake and Lily it’ll be worth the repercussions!