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Deb Caletti’s The Nature of Jade

January 7, 2010

The Nature of Jade by Deb Caletti
published by Simon Pulse February 27, 2007

The boy’s head is tilted to the sky. He reaches his arms back and unclenches the baby’s fingers from his hair. But once he is free, he keeps his chin pointed up, just keeps staring up above. He watches the backlit cotton candy clouds in a lava-lamp sky, and it is then I am sure this is a story I’ll be part of.

Jade is a high-school senior, almost ready to take flight in the world. She is applying to colleges, looking for a school where she can explore her passion for animals. She is also coping with an anxiety disorder, with the help of counseling and medication, and she spends a lot of time in the safety of her room. She spends hours watching elephants at the zoo via webcam. On her computer screen, which gives her an eye on this corner of the world, she spots a boy with a baby on his shoulders. Although he appears to be only a few years older than Jade, she suspects he is the child’s father. This fills her with questions, and she can’t get him out of her mind. She knows she wants to meet him, and she is sure she wants him in her life.

Jade’s character was vibrantly painted by the author, and I was drawn into her conflicts. She is struggling with separating from her family at the same time her parents’ marriage is dissolving. She is also dealing with her anxiety disorder and her fear that her panic attacks might return. As she explores the uncharted terrain of her first romance, something about her boyfriend’s life doesn’t add up. But can she trust her own instincts? Is she experiencing genuine intuition, or is it just her anxiety rearing its ugly head?

This multi-layered novel offers a glimpse at mental illness which, while not in-depth, is believable. I always appreciate novels for young adults that explore teen mental illness in a way that is direct without being overly didactic. No one wants a good novel to be burdened with a psychology lesson. And I found Jade’s experience compelling, especially her struggle to separate her instincts from her irrational fears.

Jade’s boyfriend, Sebastian, was an endearing character, and he drew me into the joy, vulnerability, frustration and just plain old scared-shitlessness that most new parents experience, whether they’re 17, 27, or 37:

Mostly, I’m all about Bo right now. I’m Bo’s father. It freaks me out to say it sometimes. I’m someone’s father. God. It shouldn’t be allowed. But you have a baby and they take over your world. One little person and ” … “Your whole life.

I had mixed feelings about Sebastian’s character, because he’d made a choice that really disturbed me. However I was drawn to him, and I enjoyed the budding teen romance. While the novel doesn’t explore the challenges of teen parenthood in depth, it makes it believable.

Overall, I found this to be a beautiful story of coming of age, psychological recovery, and first love. Jade’s character was memorable; she was a believable combination of strength and vulnerability, childishness and maturity. The secondary characters were painted with a light hand but are three-dimensional and real. I highly recommend this novel to all lovers of YA lit.

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