Twelve-year-old Claudia Dalton panics when her dad mysteriously disappears, until he sends a postcard saying that he “needs a little time to think some things over” while he visits an old friend. Then he starts sending Claudia a series of mysterious clues in the form of jigsaw puzzle pieces. Claudia works hard to solve each one, hoping the solution will bring her dad home.
Dad, it turns out, has picked a thoroughly unusual way to reveal to his family that he’s gay, but the setup works brilliantly in The Jigsaw Jungle, Kristin Levine’s compelling portrayal of a family in the midst of transition. Levine knows exactly how such a transition feels, as her own husband and the father of their two daughters came out in 2012.
Adding to the excellence of Levine’s tightly drawn plot is the fact that this story is told in scrapbook form—as a series of emails, phone conversations, receipts, flyers and transcripts of old home movies—compiled by Claudia, who’s just trying to make sense of everything.
The Jigsaw Jungle has a wonderful cast of likable and believable supporting characters as well, each with their own issues. Claudia’s grandfather, Papa, is a recent widower, while her new friend Luis is a child of divorce. Levine’s novel adeptly shows how acceptance and change, as hard as they may be, are vital foundations for love. “I decided I’ll just have to get used to the pieces I’ve been given, even if they don’t form the picture I had imagined they would,” Claudia explains.
The Jigsaw Jungle is a triumph of a book, portraying sensitive family dynamics in a loving, engaging way.
This article was originally published in the July 2018 issue of BookPage. Download the entire issue for the Kindle or Nook.