A mysterious treasure hunt helps to heal a broken family in critically acclaimed author Kristin Levine's first contemporary tale--perfect for fans of Wendy Mass and Jennifer L. Holm.
Claudia Dalton's father has disappeared. What began as a late night at work has spiraled into a missing persons case--one that's left twelve-year-old Claudia questioning everything she's ever known about her father and their family.
But when she finally gets word from her dad, it turns out he isn't missing at all. He's just gone to "think things over" and visit an old friend, whatever that means. Feeling confused and helpless, Claudia starts to assemble a scrapbook, gathering emails, receipts, phone transcripts and more, all in a desperate attempt to figure out what's happening with her dad. Claudia's investigation deepens at her grandfather's house, where she receives an envelope containing a puzzle piece and a cryptic message.
It's this curious first clue that sets Claudia on an unexpected treasure hunt that she hopes will bring her dad home and heal whatever's gone wrong with her family. Told through the pages of Claudia's scrapbook, The Jigsaw Jungle is a moving story of a family lost and then found, with a dash of mystery and loads of heart, from award-winning author and middle-grade master Kristin Levine.
Now that you’ve read the publisher’s summary, we can finally talk book. The Jigsaw Jungle is a middle-grade contemporary novel following twelve-year-old Claudia Dalton’s search for her father through puzzle pieces. The story is mainly told through emails, phone and video transcripts, voice memos, text messages, puzzle pieces, and notes to the reader.
The unique formatting of the book was an aspect I really enjoyed; it brought fresh ideas to the table and really felt different in a fun and exciting way, not to mention that it was easier and simpler to read as well. Through the notes to the readers, we always received Claudia’s emotions and thoughts, so we never missed any crucial element of her narration.
In this contemporary piece, we are introduced to an unforgettable cast of characters, some of which I really connected with. Claudia Dalton is your average twelve-year-old girl. She just graduated sixth grade, and after the summer, will be entering seventh. She loves a good puzzle, and, after her father’s disappearance, develops insecurities that his leaving was her fault due to not spending as much time with him as she used to. She is strong, persistent, and knows that family is one of the most important things in life. I really enjoyed her character! Next up, we are introduced to her best friend, Kate, who we assume she’s known for a while based on the closeness of their friendship. Kate is the same age as Claudia, and has a forty-two-year-old mother who is also pregnant. Kate is nervous and annoyed by the arrival of her new baby brother, believing the family will drift towards him and forget her. Her father has been distant recently, due to working a bit too often. Kate is insecure that when her new brother enters the world, her father especially will be the one to not have enough time for her. Claudia’s mother, who, for most of the story, is away on a business trip in Switzerland, is a strong force and great role model for her daughter. She always stays strong about this new and strange situation, and is not afraid to take matters into her own hands. While her mother goes away to the business conference for two weeks, Claudia must stay with her grandfather, Papa, at his house. Claudia’s grandmother and Papa’s wife, Lily, has recently passed away, which leaves Papa hesitant about welcoming Claudia in for the summer while he is still grieving. With Claudia beginning to watch old home movies of when her father was her age in hopes to potentially learn more about him and find a reason as to why he left, Papa watches as well and realizes he was not present as a father to Jeff (Claudia’s dad), and becomes insecure that he was not a good father. He hopes to develop a better relationship with Claudia to finally feel like a good parent or grandparent. Throughout the story, he has a strong character arc, and becomes more confident in his “grandparenting,” and transforms into a happier person after coming to terms with his wife’s death. While staying at her grandfather’s, Claudia makes a friend from across the street, whose name is Luis. The pair develops a strong friendship, and a sweet and obviously budding romance. Luis dreams of being a filmmaker, and creating documentaries, however his mother does not want him to pursue a career in the arts. His parents are divorced, and because of that, he helps Claudia recognize if her parents’ relationship will spiral into divorce or not. He always carries around a camera with him, hoping to capture an incredible and inspiring story through film. Luis’s strong personality and happy energy make him an instantly lovable character. The final character I will be talking about is Claudia’s father, whose entire life story and motivations are all shrouded in mystery. He is introduced as a normal father, loving, caring, and always present. Claudia soon goes through her history growing up with him, and shows us his kind and sweet side. As the story begins to close, we learn shocking truths and breathtaking secrets about the person he is hiding within himself. We can assume he is incredibly smart and clever to have thought of the treasure hunt he built for Claudia to discover his secrets, especially to have thought of all the details he threw in that, surprisingly, were extremely important. At the conclusion of the story, we see his weaker, vulnerable side. Because of this, I really loved his character, but I did hate his guts at times.
I really loved Claudia’s narration through the notes to readers, especially because it was very strong and really embodied her big personality. This may just be because I’m thirteen, but Claudia at times did feel extremely innocent and sounded a bit younger than twelve. These days, the average child begins cursing and understanding sexual jokes at a very young age, such as ten years old. I understand most middle-grade authors would not like to build their characters like this, however an example of Claudia’s innocence did annoy me. She was talking about how Kate’s father sometimes swatted his wife’s behind at work, and they giggled and giggled, while Claudia was disgusted. In modern times, a person of Claudia’s age wouldn’t care so much, or especially think it was super gross. I would have preferred if Claudia acted more mature in that sense.
As I always say, plot is built from conflict. And conflict is derived from the question, “What is our protagonist fighting for?” Our protagonist, Claudia, was always fighting for something. Whether it was simply to get her father back, or figure out what the clue on the next puzzle piece was, she was constantly fighting, which resulted in an outstanding and intriguing plot. At times, I did feel like it was a complete coincidence that Claudia was able to figure out what a clue meant, and she had just gotten lucky. I felt a huge stroke of luck when Claudia figured out what the “Horses in a row” puzzle piece meant because there were no home videos relating to it, or any other clues or memories surrounding it. She had made a wild guess with going to an art museum, especially going to a random one which luckily had a carousel in front of it. I really did enjoy this dramatic and page-turning plot, but sometimes, it did feel unrealistic and improbable.
The ending was shocking, and we really learned the enormity of the secrets Jeff was keeping. It was a bit predictable, though, because the author had been hinting at it since the first few pages. This made it instantly one of my first guesses. Nevertheless, I was surprised by it! It made for a good ending, because it really made you wonder and ask tons of exciting questions.
I loved the format of the book, but my only problem with it was that I was not able to experience Kristin Levine’s writing! Because the story was told about 75% through dialogue, text messages, and emails, the words spoken were very casual and not too elegant. This did, however, build the world, and make the characters sound real, which I appreciated! In the notes to readers, we did get small samples of Mrs. Levine’s writing which I really enjoyed! It was poetic, metaphorical, and very, very beautiful! I wish I had gotten to read more of it! Below I have attached Mrs. Levine’s bio if you are interested in learning about her and her books!
I really did enjoy this story! It was a quick read, with lots of mystery and adventure at every turn. The ending brought many emotions to the table, and wonderfully concluded this outstanding novel! Pre-order your copy of The Jigsaw Jungle now, or buy it in stores on June 19th! It is a captivating book about family, friendship, hope, love, and finding yourself that you will not want to miss!
- Alexander Lilly
Kristin Levine, author of the critically acclaimed The Best Bad Luck I Ever Had, The Lions of Little Rock, and The Paper Cowboy received her BA in German from Swarthmore College and an MFA in film from American University. She spent a year in Vienna, Austria, working as an au pair and has taught screenwriting at American University. Currently, she lives in Alexandria, VA with her two daughters. The Jigsaw Jungle is her fourth novel.