“’I’m taking that cat. I want the black one. You can’t talk me out of it, so don’t even try.’ I was already starting to understand him. To feel for him. Or maybe even to feel with him. He was scared. He was not cuddly. He was not beautiful. If I didn’t take him, he was as good as dead. He was about to be given the death penalty for not being beautiful. Someone had to come along and love him just the way he was. I was that someone.”
Elle’s mom has fallen for her new boyfriend Donald. He’s moving in and Elle’s moving out. Into her own apartment. Just before her sixteenth birthday. Because, after all, Donald doesn’t want her around. So, pretending that she is worried about Elle’s loneliness, her mom wants to buy her a cat. Elle decides to get one from a shelter instead. And then to pick one that’s been through some serious fighting—his eye, a piece of his ear and patches of his fur are missing. He’s broken.
In a bit of grace, when Elle is moving in to her new apartment, she meets her neighbor Frank. He’s small for a man, but kind and good looking and Elle has an immediate crush on him although he’s living with a woman (also kind) named Molly.
I wouldn’t say that Elle’s lived a sheltered life—her mother is much too self-centered to be nurturing. But Elle is not entirely in tune with others because she hasn’t had that nurturing she needs. Her new friends at her new school—outcasts all—know immediately what Elle hasn’t seen. That Frank is transgendered.
This tightly-written novel is so sweet and compassionate, I want to recommend it to everyone. I know I harp on how much I hate it when young adult books have repetitive scenes or action; when they redescribe all the dialogue by adding tags with adverbs. (The last one I read had something like this: ‘I wish I really was a vampire because at least then I would be understood,’ Helen thought miserably, feeling totally misunderstood.” Really?) I’m trying to stop complaining, but it does bother me because I feel like the authors and editors are disrespecting teens, who they think are so clueless that everything must be repeated. And then repeated.
Catherine Ryan Hyde, the author of Jumpstart the World respects you. She’s a wonderful writer. (Adults will remember her bestseller of a decade ago—Pay It Forward—which was made into a movie.) The breathless pace of Jumpstart the World is perfect. As are Hyde’s protagonists and their respect for one another.