Every once in a while, I think of books in terms of math equations. What elements are mixing together to make a story? A Clatter of Jars takes a little fantasy and adds realistic characters and a summer camp. There’s a twin who wants her own identity, an ungifted boy trying to protect his special brother, a “talented” girl whose parents have served up a series of disappointments, and an unhappy and bitter woman who thinks she wants to fix her life but makes others miserable along the way. Connections are made between characters. “Talents” are added and subtracted.
This book started a bit slowly for me. Although I liked A Tangle of Knots (a companion novel), it’s been a while since I read it, so a few of the references flew right by me at first. I don’t actually think you’d have to have read it to like this book, but it might help a little. There were also just enough characters that my easily distracted brain (shiny object? where?) had a hard time keeping them all straight.
The reward in the end was worth it, though. The story picks up and quickly, you’re charging along with it, trying to guess what chaotic thing might happen next. Jars pop up in the lake. “Talents” are shared and switched. Memories are lost and returned. Eventually, several of the characters realize that they need to apologize for what they’ve done, even if it isn’t easy, even if it means naming things they don’t want to name.
If this book has one overarching message, it’s to be careful about how you try to fix things you think you want to change. Each one of the main characters wants something to be different, but often they forge ahead without realizing what the ripple effects will bring about.
As a read aloud, this book would offer a lot of opportunities to discuss tough things like asking for forgiveness and how doing what you think is right might not always lead to the resolution you want in the end. It might also be a nice way to have a conversation about the things we think we’re good at and how we’d feel if we lost them. I might imagine I’m a pretty good soccer player, but what if that was taken away from me? Would I be a different person? Would that be ok? Food for thought…
A Clatter of Jars by Lisa Graff