Scumble is the second of a three book series by Ingrid Law for middle grade readers (Savvy [a Newbery medal honoree], Scumble, and Switch). It’s the story of a special boy and how he learned to be special.
On their 13th birthday, every member of Ledger Kale’s family gets a savvy, a special superpower, that is usually different from all the other savvies of the family. For instance Ledge’s mother can persuade people with her words, his grandmother was able to trap radio broadcasts in jars so that they could be stored and opened and enjoyed at another time, and a great-uncle could create ice or snow storms.
The problem with the savvies was that no one ever knew what it would be and the recipient had to learn how to control and use it. In Ledge’s case, this proved to be disastrous. His savvy was two-fold. The first, he took things apart, but when he got it he couldn’t control it so anything in the area was liable to come apart in a sudden explosion.
When the story begins, Ledge’s family has been invited to a cousin’s wedding. However, they are waiting until the last-minute to leave, the last-minute being Ledge’s 13th birthday. They want to be able to identify his savvy so they might be able to help him control it otherwise he might ruin the wedding.
Good plan, in theory.
Shortly after blowing out the candles on his birthday cake things start exploding: a light switch, a doorknob, a garage door opener, a can opener, a stopwatch, a lamp, an electric nose-hair trimmer, a toaster…
When the Kale family finally hops into the family van for the long drive from Indiana to Wyoming, things don’t get any better for Ledge. The muffler falls off the van, wheel bearings break, a tire comes loose. Eventually, they limp into Sundance, Wyoming where Ledge meets a girl his age, Sara Jane, and trips over her feet. A moment later his hormones kick in, and he inadvertently takes the door off the Sheriff’s car and blows up a motorcycle.
During all this Ledge learns to recognize when his savvy is going to do something because he gets itchy and feels like ants are crawling across his skin.
That happens again while he’s having a problem outside the barn where everyone’s dancing and celebrating with the bride and groom. Sara Jane, an outsider has shown up. The rule is that strangers are not to know about the family secret, their savvies. Moments later Sara Jane knows there is something different about this family and as she runs off Ledge is upset. Moments later his skin is itching, his stomach is upset and the barn starts creaking and groaning. There is nothing Ledge can do as he watches his feelings tear the barn apart and send it crashing to the ground.
Needless to say, things are going to get better for Ledge, although there is more damage, destruction, and some jail time along the way.
I enjoyed this family friendly fantasy, a tall-tale, a coming-of-age story of an ordinary teenager learning to control his fears as he suddenly becomes far from ordinary.
Although this story is well written and rarely drags, it wasn’t quite as good as Ingrid Law’s first book, “Savvy.” Scumble was a bit harder to get started. It began suddenly, but not suddenly with activity, suddenly with a description telling what was going on rather than showing it. The characters also weren’t as well-defined. They didn’t ‘feel’ as warm or friendly as did the characters in Savvy. That’s all minor though. In the end, this is a good book. I’d recommend it to anyone, child or adult. Stick with it past the first 25 or 30 pages and it will entertain you the rest of the way. You might not believe what is happening, but you will enjoy seeing it happen.