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The Nature of Jade    by Deb Caletti order for
Nature of Jade
by Deb Caletti
Order:  USA  Can
Simon & Schuster, 2007 (2007)
* * *   Reviewed by Hilary Williamson

Jade DeLuna is a teenage girl who suffers anxiety attacks (we see her regularly meeting with her hip psychologist Abe), but still looks after her younger brother Oliver as best she can. Their mother seems to be trying to live vicariously through her daughter and school events, while their father does the same through his son, pushing the uninterested Oliver (who'd rather read Narnia books) hard in sports. There is tension - and distance - between the parents. And Jade's friends all seem to be growing apart too, during their senior year. Hannah has discovered the opposite sex, Jenna has found religion, and Michael is obsessed with marks.

The family lives in a townhouse near the Seattle zoo, and Jade often watches the zoo elephants through live webcams (she tells us that she started with the gorillas, whose interactions were 'like a bad episode of All My Primates'). One day, she glances at her computer (linked to the webcam) and sees a young, cute, red-jacketed boy, with a baby/toddler in a backpack. Watching them interact, she has 'a sense of the significant.' Jade's fascination with the boy lead her to hang out at the zoo in the hope of meeting him, and eventually motivates her to volunteer to work in the elephant enclosure, an experience that enriches her life at many levels. It's only when Jade's given up hope of ever seeing him again that she does bump into Sebastian Wilder. They meet often at the zoo, he invites her to the bookstore where he works, and then to the houseboat where he lives with his activist grandma Tess. Jade keeps their involvement secret from her family. And eventually she learns the truth of Sebastian's relationship to the child, Bo.

I enjoyed the combination of Jade's fascination with animal behavior with teen angst and typical family conflicts. And I loved her strength, underlying the surface fragility. Deb Caletti writes beautifully, and with compassion for all her varied characters - human and animal - each seeking a path through life. Don't miss The Nature of Jade.

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