Ages ago, I started following Savannah Grace on Twitter (@sihpromatum). To promote her new book, Backpacks and Bra Straps, she was running a ¢99 deal on her first one (sorry you missed it). “A travelogue for 99 cents?” I thought, “I’m into that.” To be honest, though, I thought it was about a girl getting breast implants from China. It’s not.
So what’s it really about?
At 14, Savannah is just starting to find a place among her peers in high school. She’s a typical teenager: spending all her time with her best friend Terri and her beloved dog Harrison. She develops a crush on a boy, deals with insecurities and family drama. But when she and her older sister Bree discover their father’s secret, their family starts to fall apart. She confronts her mother, whose attitude to the situation shows that she already knows, and has probably known for years. Soon, Savannah’s dad moves out — then back in — then out again. Her mom has a break down. A friend tells her “Don’t just do what you think you have to do to meet other peoples’ expectations.”
“What do I want to do?” Savannah’s mom questions.
That’s when it hit me very strongly that I need to take you guys and go see the world.
And so the family begins planning a year-long trip around the world, starting in China.
This book was a lovely read. It is propelled by the excited, infectious voice of a 14 year old. It’s written at a Young Adult level, but if you are willing to leave your pretensions at the door, there is a lot to be learned and enjoyed in the text. At 378 pages, it’s not exactly a short read, but Savannah’s detailed descriptions of place and character will propel you through the novel easily.
As someone who’s never traveled to China or Mongolia, the subject matter was brand new to me. It interested me greatly to read about both the tiny towns and big cities Savannah and her family visited. It’s particularly interesting from the perspective of a 14 year old. There’s so much she hasn’t experienced in life, that everything seems new and different to her. Through her eyes, we hone in on drunks stumbling pants-less through busy streets at 9 in the morning, we feel for the weak horse made to carry a heavy load up a mountain and gasp as its legs collapse, we smell the dirty bathrooms and the rubbish-littered train cars, we hold our breath next to the smokers, and make faces at the floating lard in her soup, we feel fear as an old crone grasps Savannah’s arm and won’t let go.
Why is this book important?
In short, this book is important because it’s written from an entirely innocent viewpoint. When she began her journey, Savannah was no seasoned traveler, and she does not pretend to be, either. Her account of her experiences in Asia are just that: her experiences. She is not trying to preach to the reader or to sell something or to relay a “city guidebook”, she tells the story as she would to a group of friends or family members. And the reader is sent backward in time to his or her own youth — to those things that fascinated or terrified us. And then we remember that we didn’t have to go through puberty in a foreign country.
Besides reconnecting us with our childhoods, this book is an insight into families that travel, and a significant resource for anyone considering moving their kids abroad.
The book does have some flaws — the plot jumps around some without following up on questions raised in the beginning (maybe in the next book?), and the text is quite wordy and sometimes drags a little bit. But overall, it is worth the read, if only to feel like you are part of the family, exploring China and Mongolia firsthand. At the end of it, it’s hard not to feel as if the experiences relayed in the book are truly your own.
My rating: 4/5 Stars