Savvy is a lot about how life doesn't always turn out the way you hope it will. Mibs decides she knows what her savvy is because she wants to help her father, but by the middle of the book, she thinks she's made the worst mistake in the world by believing she already knew what her savvy was.
Since Mibs is our storyteller, this keeps the story interesting. She's unsure of herself and unsure of how she fits into the world, and that means there are plenty of questions that we—as readers—are eager to find answers for. So when Mibs says, "I couldn't understand any of it. Nothing about what was happening felt right. What had happened to my savvy?" (7.23), we feel just as concerned and confused as she does.
And the thing about all the uncertainty that crops up for Mibs is that by forging ahead anyway, our narrator and main characters winds up bringing a whole lot of bravery into the tonal mix too. Bravery is not the absence of fear after all, but the ability to act in spite of it, which Mibs definitely does. There are countless moments when she could have given up or turned back—like when she realizes she's been wrong about her savvy or that there's an Amber Alert out for her and her friends—but Mibs keeps her eyes on the prize instead.
Which brings us to the overall tone of this book: hopeful. The story starts out almost hopeless—Poppa is in a coma and doctors are unsure if he will make it—but Mibs uses her own hope that things will turn out for the best to start her journey, and leans on it to carry her through to the end. She says:
I thought about the way my savvy hadn't worked out in the way I'd hoped or how our journey to Salina had taken its own twists and turns. Then I remembered what Lill had said just before falling asleep in the motel the night before. You never can tell when a bad thing might make a good thing happen. (33.37)
This idea—that there can still be light at the end of the tunnel no matter how tough the going gets—is the overarching tone to the book. It keeps Mibs—and readers—optimistic until the end.
Mibs and her friends stow away on a delivery bus, crossing Nebraska and Kansas and lying to the driver, Lester, about what their plans are. On the run from the police and their parents, they attempt to get to Salina Hospital to wake up Poppa Beaumont, and along the way they sell bibles, reveal their savvies, and even flee a restaurant with a stolen banana cream pie.
An adventure like this is really meant to represent the journey that each person takes within themselves: Mibs deals with her new savvy, Fish learns how to scumble his own, Bobbi becomes a nicer person, Will Junior becomes an even better friend, Lester finds his own voice, and Lill finds a new love. And pretty much all in one adventure-filled day.
Savvy is young adult literature because it describes what it's like to feel awkward when you start becoming a teenager. Savvies are a metaphor for the changes and responsibilities that come along with getting older, and Mibs has one heck of a time dealing with hers.
The book deals with many things that young adults or teens are dealing with and struggling with: acceptance, awkwardness, and change… to name just a few. The effect is that while reading this book, you commiserate with the kids as they go through similar problems to your own, and share in the awkwardness of growing up—even if your own thirteenth birthday wasn't particularly magical.
Mibs is our main character in this book, and she starts out afraid, unable to deal with her father's accident, and foolishly jumping on a bus to try and save him. Along the way, she learns to accept her savvy, to better navigate friendship, to love in a mature way (by talking about it), and to take responsibility for her decisions. So though she isn't an adult when the story ends, Mibs has done a whole lot of growing up and definitely left childhood behind her.
Pro tip: Any time a book features people who can control electricity, the weather, radio signals, and earthquakes you've officially left the real world and are now hanging out in the realm of fantasy. So though much of the setting might seem boring or familiar, this book is still firmly planted in the fantasy genre.
At first glance, Savvy is pretty easy to understand as a title. After all, it refers directly to the magical power that each of the Beaumonts get when they turn thirteen, and this is a book about Mibs turning thirteen. Simple, right? Kind of.
If you dig a little deeper, though, and think about what savvy means outside the world of the book, you'll recognize that it also refers to "shrewdness and practical knowledge." And while this book is definitely about magical savvies, it's also about understanding the world and how to navigate it better. In other words, the Beaumont kids have to become savvy with their savvies… and all the non-magical folks have to become a bit savvier too.
We think that you could say the ending neatly wraps up everything in the story… but then again, you could also say that it leaves a lot for a sequel. The ending of Savvy is your basic one-year-later style ending, with a good bit of summary about the events that followed since Poppa woke up. So as our story winds to a close, Poppa's on the men, Fish can scumble his savvy and is headed back to school, Rocket is leaving to try to learn to scumble, Mibs is dealing with her savvy, and the pastor's kids are in the Beaumont's lives.
Though this all sounds pretty tidy, the ending still leaves plenty of questions. What if Momma's pregnant? What will Samson and Gypsy's savvies be? What's going to happen between Mibs and Will, or Bobbi and Rocket? It's a good set up for a sequel, which in fact, has already been published, Scumble.
This setting isn't just a weird mash-up of names—it's where the Beaumonts jokingly say they live. They moved to the middle of nowhere-land, the edge of Nebraska and Kansas, so that they would be as far as anyone could be from water, a move they made specifically in response to Fish's unfortunate habit of starting hurricanes. What this does for the characters is make them strangers and outsiders in the community… on top of having powers that they hide from regular people. It's like they're super outcasts or something.
On top of that, if you've ever been to Kansas or Nebraska, you'll know that everything is really far away from everything else. Seriously—it's hours between towns, which makes the trip to Salina an adventurous journey. When you're a kid and you don't have a car, a town that's two hours away might as well be on the moon.
Most of the story takes place on the bus that the gang stows away on, which is perfect not only because they're on an adventure, but also because it forces them to interact with each other. Close quarters will eventually force even the quietest of people to interact with each other. And when you've got a motley crew of kids, some of whom have super powers and some of whom are brooding teens, well, things are bound to get interesting.
The coolest thing about the bus, though, is that it's a way to mark everyone's progress. Every single character who gets on the bus eventually gets off it at the end as a radically different person. Mibs comes to an understanding of not only her savvy but herself; Fish learns to scumble his savvy; Samson learns to speak up; Bobbi becomes more communicative and nicer; Will grows the nerve to kiss Mibs; and Lester manages to become a salesman and falls in love with Lill. All thanks to one heckofa bus trip.
You're in luck, Shmoopsters: Savvy isn't very hard to read and it's really enjoyable. Sure there are several characters to keep track of, but they are all very different and interesting, so it's really not a problem. And though Mibs has a unique way of speaking (she's from the South and Kansas/Nebraska), she keeps it super conversational, so it feels like we're her friend and her story never gets tricky to follow.
Plus, there's magic and cake.
No—we don't mean that the writing sounds like it came straight from a country song. But we do mean that the word choices and phrasing sound a lot like people who live in small country town. Listen to Mibs describe where they live:
Settling directly between Nebraska and Kansas in a little place all our own, just off Highway 81, we were well beyond hollering distance from the nearest neighbor, which was the best place to be for a family like ours. (1.4)
"Hollering distance" isn't something you'd expect to hear at a bodega or a big city restaurant—it's the type of phrase you expect to hear while sipping iced tea on a front porch and watching tumbleweeds roll past. And since our story is told in the first person, this way of speaking is the way the whole story is written, which really helps set the scene and gives readers an understanding of how "out in the middle of nowhere" we really are in this book.
You can put the good silver away—informal means that this story reads like you're sitting next to a good friend and they're telling about their adventures over burgers and soda. (Mmm… burgers and soda.) You get all the dirt, and you don't have to ask twice for it. Mibs is both the main character and the narrator after all, and at the ripe old age of thirteen, she just sits back and tells the story like she sees it. So pull up a chair, and grab a snack—Mibs won't mind if you get crumbs everywhere while she talks.
A savvy isn't just the title of this book—it's also a definitely characteristic for many of the characters and a super meaningful symbol to boot. Pretty impressive for one little word, right? In Savvy, each Beaumont kid gets a special talent on their thirteenth birthday… called a savvy. And while each person's savvy is different, what they represent in each character is pretty much the same: something unique. But savvies aren't just unique super powers—they're also moments of transformation. And transformation, in many ways, is what this book is all about.
Let's take a closer look.
Mibs—as our main lady and the person who finds their savvy in this book—is the clearest example of the transformation that happens when you get your savvy. We get to see her before and after she gets it, after all.
Pre-savvy Mibs is still very much a kid. She thinks that she knows what she's doing, and that she can take on the world by herself—that's why she does things like sneaks off to Salina to try to save her father. Heck—she's such a know-it-all before she finds her savvy that she mistakes her savvy for something else. Check it out:
Thinking about the turtle and remembering the unusual way Gypsy had woken up as I'd stepped out bed, a shaky and suspicious feeling started to gnaw down deep in my bones, a feeling that stuck with me the rest of the morning and continued to grow like smoke from a grassfire. (5.13)
Sometimes when we're kids we want so badly for something to be true that we'll believe anything we can to try to make it true. Here we see Mibs doing just that, drawing grand conclusions from what are, in actuality, just ordinary events. Her turtle came out of hibernation and her kid sister woke up—that's all. Nothing super powered about it.
Turning thirteen is a big enough deal in its own right, and adding getting a savvy that day into the mix definitely makes the transition an even bigger deal. Mibs is pretty much on her own on her thirteenth birthday too, since her mom and dad are at the hospital, and she really struggles with making this giant transition. So much so, in fact, that she continues to convince herself that her savvy is something that it isn't, long after it's clear that her savvy is hearing people's thoughts.
Once Mibs goes through her transition (i.e. starts actually being a teenager and growing up a bit), things get a lot better for Mibs. Post-savvy, she communicates better with her family and friends, she learns to harness her savvy to help others, and she's able to understand herself and what she needs much better than before. She even tells Will Junior no, not just yet when it comes to kisses:
I was confident that Will's heart was a steady one and suspected that he wouldn't fall to watermelon mush just because I wasn't ready to be kissing him. But we were friends now and I didn't want to bust that up. (27.20)
What having a savvy shows us is that transitioning from being a kid to being an adult can be really tough, but the payoff is really great—you know yourself better, you deal with things better, and yet you can still be a kid once in a while.
The kids have to learn how to scumble—a.k.a. control—their savvies in order to be out and about in society. Since this takes some time and practice, scumbling is a symbol for the self-control people develop as they grow up that enables them to best use whatever powers they possess (whether magical or not) and be happy and healthy adults.
Fish offers to clearest example of the importance of mastering scumbling and the benefits that can follow. At the beginning of the book Fish is not in control of himself. The whole family had to pick up and move to smack-dab in the middle of the country just so Fish wouldn't accidently start any impromptu hurricanes. Yikes.
And the thing about Fish's savvy is that it comes bursting out when he gets emotional. So any time someone angers him or threatens a member of his family, out come the water works, so to speak. Needless to say, having a savvy is a major adjustment in his life:
After turning thirteen, Fish had never stopped needing to work extra hard to let his own particular color shine through all his dark storm clouds. Having a really powerful savvy like his was similar to waking up with a savage temper: It required a lot of extra effort and patience to control. (21.7)
Scumbling isn't just a matter of convenience for Fish—it's pretty much a matter of life or death. After he learns to scumble though, Fish basically has a new lease on life. He no longer allows himself to be controlled by his savvy, nor does he cause damage when he uses it. He even finally comes to a place where he feels like he can be around water again:
Fish, taking a deep, deep breath like he was setting aside an entire year's worth of dread, jumped into the water with a big, splashy cannonball and the boys launched into a friendly yet frighteningly powerful water fight […]. (25.18)
By learning to scumble, Fish has finally gone from being like a fish out of water when it comes to his savvy to being, well, a Fish in water. Literally. (Sorry—that was a horrible joke. We know.) And since savvies symbolize growing-up in this book, scumbling also represents characters coming into their own—so when Fish leaps into the pool, we know he's going to be okay with himself from now on.
Sometimes the hardest thing to do with people you love is communicate openly and honestly with them. Time and again in Savvy though (and in life), we see good communication leading to happiness—and on the flip side, we see bad communication leading to unhappiness. So anytime you see folks sending each other messages in one way or another, be sure to note how open they are with each other. It will clue you into whether they're happy people or not.
Let's take a look at Miss Rosemary. She plays the part of dutiful pastor's wife, going to church every Sunday and attempting to have a firm hand on her children in hopes of raising them so they turn out to be good people. Sounds good, right? Meh.
The problem is that Miss Rosemary isn't very good about communicating with the people whose lives she's trying to control. She assumes she knows what's best for the people in her family, but the more she doesn't talk to them and the more she tries to control them, the more they act out. For instance, Miss Rosemary is intent on making Bobbi into the young woman that she wants her to be, but Bobbi fiercely resists:
I couldn't fathom how Bobbi had managed to get a tattoo. I knew that if Miss Rosemary, the woman with direct connections to heaven and the ability to get God Almighty to help her plan my birthday party, if she ever found out, Bobbi might not make it to her own next birthday part, nor up to heaven to get her very own halo either. (6.20)
Though we later learn that the tattoo is fake, Bobbi's intention behind wearing it is to rebel against the image her mother so desperately wants for her daughter. We never see Miss Rosemary ask Bobbi about her hopes, dreams, or fears, and because of this these two aren't close. And though Bobbi ultimately lets her guard down with Mibs and starts to communicate openly, ultimately Miss Rosemary is a kind of tragic character. Without open lines of communication with other people, we're thinking she's probably pretty lonely. What do you think?
In contrast, look at Momma Beaumont—she actually talks to her kids about things that matter to them and her kids tend to be happier with the way things are. Plus she's interested in what makes her kids unique, instead of expecting them to conform to her ideas about how they should be (unlike Miss Rosemary). As Momma says:
"[…] you'll not only obscure your savvy completely, but most everything else in life will become dull and uninteresting for you too. You can't get rid of part of what makes you you and be happy." (21.3)
Momma knows how important being yourself is to being a happy person, and she wants to get to know her kids in all of their quirky individuality. The Beaumonts are a pretty communicative, and therefore, happy family. Perhaps this is because they're already isolated from society a bit by their super powers, whereas Miss Rosemary finds herself at the center of a church community, trying desperately to stay the course.
Can you find other examples of good and bad communicators? What about Lill and Lester? Throughout this book communication is key to developing and maintaining good relationships, and where it's lacking, people go haywire.
Mibs takes the reins in telling the story here and we definitely experience everything through her eyes, ears, and heart. This means we are as certain as Mibs is that her savvy is waking things up, and that our opinions of characters are more or less formed by Mibs—so when she says, "I'm not sure exactly what it was about Lill Kiteley, but I took to her right away" (16.1), we take to Lill too.
Luckily for us, even though Mibs is still rather young, she's pretty observant about people and the world around her. So even though we're getting the world through the eyes of a thirteen year old, there's still a lot of detail that Mibs gives us as readers about what's going on around.
This first person perspective isn't without its limits, though, and though we get to know Mibs quite well, our understanding of other things—like, say, savvies in general—is limited to what Mibs tells us. This means things like scumbling—or more specifically, how to scumble—largely remain a mystery as we read.
It's worth it to not have all the answers, though, because Mibs is an excellent person to spend the book with. She's bright and interesting, and her journey from kid to teenager is a fun and interesting one to accompany her on.
Mibs and her family have more in common than just genes, and in this family everybody develops a special power—a.k.a. a savvy—on their thirteenth birthday. They hide these powers from regular people, though, and withdraw from school so they don't accidentally hurt another kid while they're learning the ropes of their new super power. And with that the stage is set for our adventure with the Beaumont clan.
Two days before her thirteenth birthday, Mibs's father is in a terrible car accident that lands him stuck in a coma. It's a major bummer, to say the least. Thinking her savvy is the ability to wake things up, Mibs decides to sneak, plot, and trick her way to the hospital so that she can save her pops with her newly hatched savvy.
The conflict piles on as Mibs stows away on a bible bus… and discovers that her savvy isn't waking things up, which probably means she just ran away for nothing. Oh, and half of her family and some other folks stowed away with her, so they're all tangled in her mess too. And things only get more complicated once the bus heads the wrong way. For someone with a savvy, Mibs hasn't been quite as savvy in her scheming as one might hope.
So what's a girl to do in this situation?
In spite of Mib's savvy not being "waking things up," she's able to see that she can help her father anyway. The turning point comes after they've finally made it to the hospital, and Fish reminds her to look at Poppa's tattoo. Mibs realizes two things: she can use her actual savvy to look at the tattoo and know if Poppa is going to make it; and that Poppa, even though he comes from a regular family, does have a savvy. His is that he doesn't give up.
Mibs uses their savvies to talk to Poppa even though he's in a coma. It's not exactly what she'd hoped to do, but it's better than nothing.
Just as everyone's trying to hustle the Beaumonts away, Poppa wakes up. You know, because he never gives up. And with that, the crisis has officially been averted. Yay.
We catch up with the Beaumont family a year later, and find them happy and well. Poppa is on his way to recovery, the kids are learning how to scumble their savvies, and there is a baby on the way.