This coming-of-age fantasy book by Ingrid Law is published by Dial Books for Young Readers, Penguin and is written for kids ages 9 to 11. The age range reflects readability and not necessarily content appropriateness.
Mississippi (Mibs) Beaumont nervously anticipates her 13th birthday. She knows that at 13, everyone in her family has discovered their savvy and can't wait to find out hers. Savvy is a supernatural power that manifests itself differently in each Beaumont. It's an inherited quality — a special kind of know-how that goes beyond an average person's ability — that one must learn to control. Examples of savvy in the Beaumont family: One of Mibs' brothers can control electricity with his mind; another can control water. Her grandfather's moods can make the earth shift and quake.
A tragic car accident leaves Mibs' dad (Poppa) unconscious in a hospital far away. Mibs is determined to get to him. At first, Mibs thinks her savvy is that she can wake things up, which is what she wants to do to her father. She, two of her brothers and the pastor's kids stow away on the pink bus of a Bible salesman named Lester, hoping he will take them where they need to go. But when the bus heads in the opposite direction, the kids find themselves on an unforgettable road trip.
Over time, Mibs realizes her savvy is that she can actually hear people talking to her through ink on their bodies, whether it's a tattoo or someone writing on his hand with a ballpoint pen. The stowaways finally reach Poppa, and Mibs urges him not to give up fighting for his life. Poppa survives, though not without the need for extensive rehabilitation, and Mibs learns that there is good to be found even in the midst of difficult experiences and pain.
Mibs isn't always sure whether God hears or understands her. When Will Junior (the Pastor's son) says he's praying for her father, Mibs tells readers that she sometimes prays about her impending savvy and has occasionally prayed for sick relatives, but she hadn't thought to pray for her Poppa. Later, she prays no one will attend her birthday party that Miss Rosemary (the pastor's wife) is planning. Though Mibs feels Miss Rosemary believes God will help make the party a success, she (Mibs) hopes that God has better things to do and will stay out of it. Momma makes the whole family go to church every Sunday, which Mibs refers to as the Lord's Day. Momma also notes that everyone should keep hoping and praying for Poppa, because those are the things they can all do. Mibs says Poppa's recovery may be a miracle.
Poppa is a kind man, but he technically doesn't have savvy because he's married into the Beaumont clan — though Mibs later tells him his savvy is that he never gives up. Poppa's perseverance gained him the wife of his dreams and may have also saved his life after the car accident. Momma's savvy is perfection. She's a compassionate, involved parent like Poppa. Miss Rosemary, the pastor's rule-driven wife, expects others to follow her beliefs. Out of Christian duty, she takes charge of the Beaumont kids when Mibs' father has his accident and Momma leaves to be at his bedside. Pastor Meeks gives Lester a loud tongue-lashing in the church office for bringing him pink Bibles. In the final pages, he seems a little more humble as he appears to be thanking God for the safe return of his children. Lill, the waitress Lester picks up on their journey, is motherly and protective of the kids as they try to get to Poppa.
Other Belief Systems
Mibs says at one point that Bobbi's eyes look like they're shooting out voodoo vibes. Mibs also suggests her younger brother has a type of "human magic" that manifests itself when a person demonstrates concern for his fellow man.
Some of Mibs' classmates nickname her "Missy-P---y." Bobbi curses a few times, as does a maintenance man in the hospital, but no actual profanity appears in the text.
Will kisses Mibs (once, quickly) in the hotel pool. She later tells him she really likes him, but she's not ready to be kissing him yet. He tells her he can wait. While on the run, 13-year-old Mibs shares a motel bed with Lill. It's completely innocent, but Mibs has just met Lill so it might not have been the wisest move.
Newbery Honor Book, 2009; Publishers Weekly Best Book of the Year, 2008; Boston Globe-Horn Book Award, 2008; and others.
If your children have read this book or someone has read it to them, consider these discussion topics:
- Mibs questions whether God is with her, and she later wonders if He can understand her reasons for stowing away and lying.
How would you answer those questions for her?
Have you ever tried to bargain with God, like Mibs does when she wants to make the voices in her head stop?
How does God want us to seek His help?
- What does Mibs mean when she says Samson has a sort of "human magic" in the way he demonstrates genuine concern for others?
What words would you use to describe a person like that?
How else did you see such behavior demonstrated in this book?
Name people in your own life who display those characteristics and describe how they show them.
- Why was Mibs so concerned for the homeless man she saw while she was on the run?
Why couldn't she wake him up — even though she tried to seek power from deep inside herself?
Where do you look for power when you're in a tough situation?
- What would it feel like to have lots of voices in your head, in the same way as Mibs?
How did Lester's tattoos of his mother and former girlfriend talk to and treat Lester?
How did their cruel words make you feel about Lester?
Do you ever hear voices in your head telling you what you should do and who you should be?
- How is Mibs punished?
Is the punishment appropriate for all she did and the problems she caused?
How did she suffer for her actions?
How did her lies and behaviors endanger others?
- Do you agree with Mibs that it's sometimes difficult to predict what will happen when you make a particular choice?
What are some specific guidelines you can use to make wise decisions?
Can bad things ever lead to good things, as Lill suggests?
What can you do when a choice you've made has left you in a bad situation?
- What are your unique skills or talents?
Are you pleased with the skills you have, or do you wish you had different talents?
What special ability or savvy would you choose for yourself if you could do or be anything?
How did this story's "ordinary" characters, including Lill, Poppa and Will, demonstrate their uniqueness?
- How were the overtly Christian characters, such as Pastor Meeks and Miss Rosemary, portrayed in this story?
In what ways did they show — or fail to show — God's love through their actions?
Which characters most exemplified Christ's compassion?
How did they do this?
- What does Mibs realize about the events (big and small, good and bad) that happen in life?
Are there changes in your life that are hard for you to accept?
What are some events or situations that have changed who you are?
How did you respond to them?
Where can you find the strength to move forward when life is hard?
Several people in the story have tattoos. Poppa has a mermaid from his Navy days; the preacher's daughter, Bobbi, wears a temporary tattoo of an angel with a devil's tail; Lester, the Bible salesman, has several in honor of an old girlfriend and his mother; bikers and a homeless man have them as well. Since Mibs' savvy involves hearing people's thoughts through the ink on their skin, these tattoos are integral parts of the story. Tattooing is neither applauded nor condemned in the book.
The kids lie to Lill, telling her they have called their parents to let their parents know they're safe. In fact, Bobbi has faked her mother's voice on another phone line for Lill's benefit (which she has also apparently done to get out of going to school at times). The kids also lie to Lill about why they're on the road with Lester. Mibs later feels remorse for her lies and deception, fearing in part that they will get Lill and Lester in trouble with the law.
As the group escapes from the diner where Lill has just been fired, they steal a pie.
Walden Media has acquired the rights to turn this book into a feature film.
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