Title: Haven Jacobs Saves the Planet
Author: Barbara Dee
Publisher: Aladdin, Sept. 2022
Themes: eco-anxiety, teens, pollution, climate crisis, chemical pollutants, rivers, friendships, anxiety, bullying, panic attacks, insomnia, nail-biting
Reviewed from an ARC
Favorite Quote (as a librarian ;)) :
“I hear you.” Ms. Packer nodded slowly. “Climate change is a huge issue, and it is easy to feel overwhelmed. But can I ask where you are getting your information?”
“Different places. The internet mostly. I’ve been reading a lot, but there’s just so much!”
“Okay, but what are your sources?. Not everything on the internet is true. Are you reading things by actual climate scientists?”
The book stars Twelve year-old Haven Jacobs, a girl combatting her eco-anxiety fuelled by her obsession with climate change. She stands up against the new company whose factory is suspected of polluting the river running through her town. Her anxiety is affecting all aspects of her life from school work to sleep, to relationships. A smart teacher recognizes the importance of helping to chanel this passion and angst, and suggests a river cleanup campaign after their annual social sciences river project reveal a dearth of the usual frog population. The only thing that has changed in town over the past year is the new factory for which Haven’s dad now works. Haven has to face the dilemma of standing up for what she know to be right and protecting the river or possibly causing the loss of her dad’s job.
Why I like this book:
As a teen, I and my peers grappled with what at the time felt like the real threat of nuclear war. This present school age generation face the very real threat of ecological destruction by mankind. If you talk to tweens and teens, climate change is causing distress, anger and other negative emotions among them. This ‘eco-anxiety’ has a negative impact on their daily lives, and is certainly partly caused by the feeling that governments and people in power aren’t doing enough to avoid a climate catastrophe. This is why this middle grade novel is so timely and credible. Barbara Dee manages to create compelling protagonists like Haven who we root for from page one. Not just because we buy into her concern for the planet but because we are moved by her anxiety and action, as well as how she navigates all the other normal middle school crud while developing her activism. Like Great Thumburg, Haven is a young person who speaks and acts to get others in her community involved in her river cleanup project and isn’t scared to call out the wrongdoing of adults.
While this novel focuses on a specific anxiety (related to how humans are destroying the planet, it has broad appeal and relevance with regards how many young people’s stress (especially through this pandemic) is visible through reactionary behavior, nail-biting, sleeplessness etc.
This is a weighty topic (as are all of Barbara Dee’s MG novels), which is addressed in an authentic and hopeful way, in strong part because the characters feel so genuine with all the concerns and aspirations of this age group. There were so many secondary characters I also enjoyed, from Haven’s brother, Carter, and the new kid, Kenji, to supportive parents and teachers. This is a compelling middle grade read full of humor, science and an eco mission that will inspire many upper elementary and middle school students to add their voices to the growing movement of young eco-warriors.
- Start at home; set a green example.
- Watch a documentary together, e.g. Our Planet with our favourite nature story-teller Sir David Attenborough instead.
- Suggest inspirational social media accounts (for teens), such as such as teen climate activist @gretathunberg, @fridaysforfuture and @climateoptimist.
- Plant a community garden