Sapphire the Great and the Meaning of Life
by Beverley Brenna
Illustrated by Tara Anderson
To be published 22 Feb 2019
Arc provided by NetGalley
It’s not every day you encounter a hamster experiencing an existential crisis, but Sapphire has spent her short pet-store life convinced that she’s waiting for…something. At first she thinks it’s to be FREE, but it may be possible that life has a greater purpose in store–a purpose Sapphire will discover thanks to a nine-year-old girl whose family is changing in ways she doesn’t quite understand. Jeannie’s dad has moved out, her mom is always tired and snappish, and her older brother just wants to play video games in his room all day. Jeannie doesn’t understand what’s going on, but she knows one thing: she really, REALLY wants a hamster. Her mom promised she could buy one with her Christmas money, but it’s been WEEKS since the holidays and Jeannie’s beginning to worry she’ll never get her pet. But maybe if she does, her dad will come to visit. Maybe a hamster will make everything better. Narrated by Jeannie and Sapphire in alternating chapters, Sapphire the Great and the Meaning of Life is a touching middle-grade novel by award-winning author Beverley Brenna that explores themes of family, friendship, togetherness, and self-identity. With a cast that includes a transgender neighbor, a father finally accepting his homosexuality, and a realistic protagonist who will appeal to fans of Ramona Quimby, Brenna’s latest offering is an age-appropriate introduction to some difficult subjects that also abounds with humor and poignancy.
Oh my gosh! Brenna hit a homerun with the book! It grabs you by the throat and pulls you in on the very first page and doesn’t let go of your heartstrings until the last page. Better have some tissues handy (good tears…not bad).
The story is told through short alternating chapters between Jeannie and Sapphire the Great (her hamster).
We join Jeannie, Alistair (her brother), and their mother three weeks after Christmas and two weeks after their father left, Harvey, left the house. Everyone is dealing with the separation in different ways. Jeannie yells everything, Alistair has turned to video games, and their mother is feeling very stressed.
Sapphire is a white hamster with bright blue eyes that spends their day in the pet shop contemplating the meaning of life. For Jeannie, it was love at first site. On their way home, the family’s car is struck by a Ford truck driven by Anna Conda. Alistair knows there is something off about this “woman”, but his mother knows her from her job and they strike up a neighborly relationship.
Everyone is meant to be exactly who they are, but sometimes the journey there takes us to places we never thought of, yet we end up exactly where we need to be. For the characters in this book, it is a skating rink with friends and family who all learned that love and friendship comes in all shapes, sizes, and combinations. For Sapphire, it meant being free, loved, and cared for inside a warm, cozy cage filled with fresh shavings and food.
This book has left me at a loss for words in a very good way. The characters are so engaging, honest, and real that you forget you are reading a book. There are many excellent points made in the story, but my favorite line comes from Tom, Alistair’s new friend who happens to be son of their father’s boyfriend, “The word normal doesn’t really apply to people. It only applies to the weather and stuff like that.” Truer words have never been written.
The story is complete, satisfying, and just feels right. It will definitely be sitting on my shelf as soon as it is published. I was very lucky to be able to read this ARC through NetGalley.
Overall rating: ♥♥♥♥♥