Sapphire the Great and the Meaning of Life

Beverley Brenna, illus. by Tara Anderson. Pajama, $16.95 (160p) ISBN 978-1-77278-069-7
Alternating narrators Jeannie and her pet hamster exude an endearing impetuousness in this novel about family and finding one’s true self. The nine-year-old girl sorely misses her father, Harvey, who recently separated from her mother, and she impulsively names her new pet after him. The hamster (whose name is switched to Sapphire when Jeannie learns the animal’s sex) earnestly, if theatrically, ponders the meaning of life (“There is nothing so calming as a wilted bit of carrot. But am I happy?”). She also longs for freedom—until escaping from her cage several times with harrowing results. Brenna (The White Bicycle) expands on themes of identity and acceptance by introducing Anna, Jeannie’s mother’s transgender friend, and Robin, the man who is Harvey’s new partner. Represented by different fonts, the emotive narrative voices are distinctive and wryly limned. In a gratifying denouement, when Harvey thanks Sapphire for comforting and taking care of his aching family, her ingenuous response (“Is that what I have been doing?”) confirms that she has unwittingly found her purpose in life. Fetching portraits of Sapphire by Anderson (Rhino Rumpus) open each chapter. Ages 7–10. (Feb.)
Reviewed on: 12/24/2018
Release date: 02/01/2019
Genre: Children's
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