Thursday, June 14, 2018

The Jigsaw Jungle by Kristin Levine, 2018

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A mysterious treasure hunt helps to heal a broken family in Kristin Levine's first contemporary tale.

Claudia Dalton's father has disappeared. What began as a late night at work has spiraled into a missing persons case - one that's left twelve-year-old Claudia questioning everything she's ever known about her father and their family.

But when she finally gets word from her dad, it turns out he isn't missing at all. He's just gone to "think things over and visit an old friend," whatever that means. Feeling confused and helpless, Claudia starts to assemble a scrapbook, gathering emails, receipts, phone transcripts and more, all in a desperate attempt to figure out what's happening with her dad. Claudia's investigation deepens at her grandfather's house, where she receives an envelope containing a puzzle piece and a cryptic message.

It's this curious first clue that sets Claudia on an unexpected treasure hunt that she hopes will bring her dad home and heal whatever's gone wrong with her family.
(368 pages)

I thought this was going to be one of those puzzle adventure books, like The Gollywhopper Games or Mr. Lemoncello's Library. I thought Claudia's father had left behind a whimsical puzzle for her to find him. I wasn't thrilled with the idea that he had completely abandoned his family just to go "think things over," but I thought the focus would be enough on the puzzles that I wouldn't have to think too hard about the iffyness of the premise.

Instead, the book is basically Claudia and her paternal grandfather's journey of discovery through old footage of her father's childhood, piecing together the reason that he felt he had to leave.

I won't talk about the details of that reason, because it's a huge spoiler for the book. And I won't discuss all the reasons I think her father's actions are despicable, because that would just be too negative (plus, as I said, a major spoiler). But I will say that I believe that once you have committed yourself to your family, you can't just walk away. I don't care what your reasons are, no amount of inner turmoil makes it morally okay for you to just disappear from your loving wife and daughter's life. Claudia and her mother literally called the police when he didn't come home, because they didn't know what had happened to him. He didn't leave a note or anything. And then he starts sending them these really cryptic clues, forcing Claudia to comb through these old home videos and go to museums he went to as a kid, stringing both his father and his daughter along day after day. I can't believe I even need to state the obvious, but this is not okay!

I also can't believe how well everyone treats him once they finally do find out the reason he's gone and hunt him down. In Claudia's shoes, I would be beyond shattered. And Claudia is upset, but not nearly as upset as I'm sure she would have been in real life.

And, look, I'm not going to talk about the spoilers, but I do want to warn potential readers (and especially parents) that there is some content in the book that a significant proportion of people do not feel is appropriate for a children's book. I honestly think it's very dishonest of the publisher not to have warned the reader/parents in some way that this material would be there. I won't go into it more here, but if parents want to know more specifics they can ask me in the comments.

Moving away from the negative, I will say that I really liked both of Claudia's friends. They felt very realistic and the parts of the story with them were definitely my favorite parts. And the actual format of the book is really cool: it's the actual records Claudia kept, so they're video transcripts and phone records and text messages, etc. interspersed with some short narration to tie everything together. It's really clever and well-done, and I would love to see more books done in creative ways like this.

But honestly, I'm just sad that The Jigsaw Jungle was so much more troubling than I thought it would be. I really was looking for just a simple puzzle adventure book when I requested it! As it is, though, I'm ready to set my copy down and move on.

Disclaimer: I received a complimentary copy of this novel from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

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