Looking back, oh how I wish I'd pillaged those leftover swag bags at Book Blogger Con for some more Deb Caletti books. If only I'd had a nice Sherpa to carry all my plunder through the crush of the NJ Transit crowd in Penn Station the Friday before Memorial Day Weekend. As it was, I barely made it out without being squished to death by the herd, but those missed Deb Caletti books still haunt me. I'm sure I'll find a way to acquire some more because I really liked Wild Roses and with The Nature of Jade Deb Caletti has definitely gone two for two with me.
Jade DeLuna never knows when she's going to have a panic attack. She's always on guard for for that tightening feeling in her chest that signifies that she might be about to lose control and humiliate herself. Jade's figured out a few ways to ward off the panic - lighting patron saint candles, picturing herself in a calm, barren desert, sucking on a cough drop, and watching the live webcam of the elephants in the zoo down the street. The routine of watching the elephants do what comes naturally soothes Jade's stresses away. Sometimes she can see the visitors to the elephants on the webcam, too, but none ever draw her attention until the day the young guy in a red jacket carrying a baby on his back catches her eye. Just seeing him on the webcam, Jade has an unmistakable sense that this stranger and the kid she assumes is his will somehow become a part of her life.
After a half-hearted attempt or two to "accidentally" meet him, Jade pushes thoughts of him to the back of her head to focus on her new volunteer job taking care of the elephants. Getting to know the elephants and their keeper is a welcome break from the troubles that are riddling Jade's parents marriage, unwelcome additions to her group of friends, and her rapidly upcoming decision about what college to attend. Between all the chaos in her life and her new found relationship with the elephants, the guy in the red jacket is all but a memory until the day he shows up again. Just as she'd supposed, soon Sebastian and his son Bo are becoming the best things in her life, and she feels more at home with the pair and Sebastian's grandmother than she could ever hope to feel at home with her real family. Unfortunately, there's more to Sebastian's story than first meets the eye, leaving Jade to make some decisions she'd never imagined.
Caletti has a great knack for voicing quirky first person narrators that are easy to relate to for girls both young and old. Jade has a compelling conversational voice that makes you feel like you've got a friend telling you a story. She makes it easy to see how the every day business of living can be downright terrifying if you think about it too much.
But the one thing my illness did make me realize is how necessary it is to ignore the dangers of living in order to live. And how much trouble you can get into if you can't. We all have to get up every morning and go outside and pretend we aren't going to die... We concentrate on having little thoughts so we don't have BIG THOUGHTS. It's like those days when you've got a really bad pimple but you still have to go to school. You've got to convince yourself it's not so bad just so you can leave the house and actually talk to people face to face. You've got to ignore the one big truth -- life is fatal.
Jade and Sebastian's love story is sweetly told starting with believable awkwardness and insecurity and evolving until they start to feel like home for each other. Caletti goes out of her way to emphasize the quirks and ordinarily mundane qualities that can make one person love another much more than words or looks. The portrayal of a teen dad who is in love with his young son and desperately wants to care for him no matter the sacrifice is refreshing. It seems the most natural thing in the world that when Jade begins to forget to worry about every little thing as she falls deeper in love with Sebastian and his family.
And so I had to go backward and come to know the person I loved. I learned he hated shirts with scratchy tags, that he knew everything about cars and read science fiction and spy novels. He could figure out what was wrong with a computer, draw sketches of buildings on napkins and phone books and spare pieces of paper, and often wore socks that didn't match. He hated to get angry, and instead just kept it inside until it came out in a rush that was near tears. His touch was gentle. He used the work "f--k" a little too often after he got to know you well, but rarely swore around people he didn't know. He liked anything barbequed - ribs, chips, hot wings. Sometimes he licked his fingers.
What's especially interesting about Caletti's books is that, despite the fact that she writes beautiful, romantic, realistic love stories, she never leaves her main characters to be defined by their relationship. The love story opens doors, teaches lessons, and ends uncertainly, but the change in Jade never stops being the focus. Caletti leaves us all with the correct impression that girls are stronger than they know and more resilient in the face of hardship than even they would expect, and that's a lesson that's a pleasure to learn from The Nature of Jade.