Book Review: Haven Jacobs Saves the Planet by Barbara Dee
From critically acclaimed author Barbara Dee comes a middle grade novel about a young girl who channels her anxiety about the climate crisis into rallying her community to save a local river.
Twelve-year-old Haven Jacobs can’t stop thinking about the climate crisis. In fact, her anxiety about the state of the planet is starting to interfere with her schoolwork, her friendships, even her sleep. She can’t stop wondering why grownups aren’t even trying to solve the earth’s problem—and if there’s anything meaningful that she, as a seventh grader, can contribute.
When Haven’s social studies teacher urges her to find a specific, manageable way to make a difference to the planet, Haven focuses on the annual science class project at the local Belmont River, where her class will take samples of the water to analyze. Students have been doing the project for years, and her older brother tells her that his favorite part was studying and catching frogs.
But when Haven and her classmates get to the river, there’s no sign of frogs or other wildlife—but there is ample evidence of pollution. The only thing that’s changed by the river is the opening of Gemba, the new factory where Haven’s dad works. It doesn’t take much investigation before Haven is convinced Gemba is behind the slow pollution of the river.
She’s determined to expose Gemba and force them to clean up their act. But when it becomes clear taking action might put her dad’s job—and some friendships—in jeopardy, Haven must decide how far she’s willing to go.
Barbara Dee is an auto-read author for me. Her middle grade books are consistently well-written, interesting, and tackle important topics. Haven’s eco-anxiety is not unique to her, but by witnessing her experiences with it, readers get an important look at how anxiety about climate change is affecting kids and, for those who feel the same as Haven, an important look at another kid feeling how they feel. Like with any main issue in a book, that issue is not the whole, entire story. Eco-anxiety is not Haven’s whole, entire self. She’s a typical middle schooler trying to navigate changing friendships, potential crushes, and family dynamics. Haven will be a relatable character for so many readers, especially as they watch her try to figure out what to do about a friend maybe making new friends.
And while Haven is truly struggling with her anxiety, she is surrounded by support. Her parents take her concerns seriously and help her be an activist, despite her dad’s company possibly being a cause of river pollution. They make sure she knows that she can always talk to them and if it’s important to her, it’s important to them. Her older brother listens to her and joins her in her actions. She has teachers who are engaging with her and showing support and concern as they try to help her balance things like schoolwork with this sort of overwhelming feeling of helpless and a desire to act, somehow. Her friends (and not-really friends) come together to share their concerns and support. Her parents also want Haven to see a therapist to help with this increasingly debilitating anxiety. Through the activism and protests and through finding her community and her voice, Haven begins to feel some hope, despite the crisis still being overwhelmingly large and something she cannot fix. She learns she can do small things greatly, and she does. A thoughtful and potentially eye-opening read about one of the most significant issues we’re facing.
Review copy (ARC) courtesy of the publisher
Publication date: 09/27/2022
Age Range: 9 – 13 Years
Filed under: Book Reviews
About Amanda MacGregor
Amanda MacGregor works in an elementary library, loves dogs, and can be found on Twitter @CiteSomething.
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