The summer she turns 12, Jane is ready to grow up and experience “the know-not-what.” Her life in a small beach house with her poet mother and three younger siblings is too confining, so she prays for one hundred adventures. She is granted only 14, but that’s enough to teach her about herself and the world she is growing into.
Jane’s adventures involve dropping Bibles from a hot-air balloon, searching for psychic poodles, and being conned into babysitting for a very dysfunctional family. Amidst three possible fathers, a local preacher who believes she is a faith healer, and an assortment of grumpy and hypochondriac neighbours, Jane struggles to understand the adult world. This often gets her into difficulties, as when she takes what the preacher says about the power of prayer literally.
The latest novel by Vancouver Island author Polly Horvath is a beautifully told tale, but it’s not for everyone. Horvath does a wonderful job of creating a kid’s perspective: Jane sees a farmer herding cows and imagines he is taking them for a walk, and the story has a dreamy sense of slowly unfolding mystery. However, Jane’s thoughts are sometimes more like those of an adult looking back, not those of a 12-year-old: “I was conceived in the depths of a moonlit sea by tides and eddies and swirls of sea life and the longing of a poet to be a mother.“
The descriptive language is poetic, but will sometimes be a struggle for an eight-year-old. For example, the tide is “powerless to change its prescribed motion” and the stars are so bright that Jane is “blinded by ambient light.”
My One Hundred Adventures has a slow beginning, which will discourage some readers, but more patient types will be rewarded by getting to know a quirky and interesting central character whose main adventure is growing up. The book will appeal mostly to confident girl readers at the upper end of its proposed age range.