JUMPSTART THE WORLD by Catherine Ryan Hyde (Knopf 2010) is a revelation. When Elle is barely 16, her mother drops her off in an apartment in the city while she goes off with the new boyfriend. Elle and a scruffy cat are sort of a classic pair of loners. It is easier for them both to hold others at bay than to open themselves up to pain and rejection. Elle heads off for school expecting to remain the loner. However, she is surprised when a group of misfits adopts her. And then there are her neighbors: Frank and Molly. They, too will try to adopt Elle, to give her the friendship she lacks and desperately needs. <4>
This book surprised me in some ways. I was not surprised by Elle's mother's abandonment in favor of a boyfriend. I have witnessed that firsthand. Nor was I astonished that Elle finds friendship at school, especially since Hyde is careful to have those relationships unfold and be rocky at the outset and early on as well. What did surprise me were the subplots and how Hyde demonstrates through all of the stories that surround Elle that life is never about ONE thing, it never has ONE focal point or ONE problem. Somehow, that is oddly comforting to me as a reader. I am seeing a reflection of real life: it is messy and complicated and ongoing. Hyde captures that wonderfully in JUMPSTART THE WORLD.
Reading Ladders can go off in many directions here. We can have ladders that follow Frank and Molly and examine issues of transgender. We can have a ladder that examines the nature of the schizophrenic neighbor who goes on and off his meds. Certainly we can have ladders about parental abandonment and about forming new friendships. And then there is a lovely ladder about photography that could include FLASH BURNOUT and other titles.