Twelve-year-old Claudia Dalton is good with jigsaw puzzles. She's been doing them with her dad since she was a kid. She understands the pleasure of clicking the pieces right into place, the way the tabs and the pockets fit together perfectly and the frustration of thinking you've found the perfect piece only to have it not fit.
Now she's starting to worry that her family no longer fits together. Her father disappears, and Claudia and her mother are getting very anxious about him. They can't find him, and he's not answering his phone or his texts or emails. Claudia keeps trying to reach out to him, in case he can hear her, and she finally gets a response. He says he needs some time, that he needs to think some things over.
Claudia is hurt and confused, but the bigger problem is that her mother is about to leave for a week-long work conference in Geneva, Switzerland. She can't stay with her dad, who is still "away." She can't stay with her best friend Kate because Kate's mother is just days away from giving birth. And she doesn't want to go with her mom and be stuck in a hotel room all week. The only other choice is her grandfather, her dad's father. But ever since Claudia's grandmother had died a year before, he's seemed even less interested in spending time with her. But Claudia had no choice. She went to stay with her grandfather for a week. staying in her dad's old room, sleeping in his Peanuts sheets under his Star Wars posters. And she has a shelf full of his old jigsaw puzzles to keep her company.
And then she hears from her father. He sends her a puzzle piece, and it's up to her to figure out which puzzle it goes to and then follow the bread crumbs that her father left her, so that she can find out why he left and try to put her family back together again.
As she winds her way through puzzles and museums, getting closer to her grandfather and making friends with a kid from the neighborhood, an aspiring documentarian, Claudia learns how to think beyond the lines of the puzzle. The puzzles she solves and the connections she makes bring her to a place where she can understand that even though life's puzzles may not end up like the picture you want to see on the box, it can still make a for beautiful portrait.
Kristin Levine's The Jigsaw Jungle is an engrossing tale of a treasure hunt where Claudia gets to find a true family at the end. The clever hints in her father's game, the places that Claudia and her grandfather get to go, the relationships that build throughout this story make for a fascinating read filled with charm and intelligence. Although there is sadness in Claudia's story, there is triumph too, and the journey is exactly the one that I would have wanted to go on as a twelve-year-old reader. In fact, even though I haven't seen middle school for decades, I still couldn't put this book down. It's phenomenal and a great read for puzzle solvers of all ages.
Galleys for The Jigsaw Jungle were provided by G.P. Putnam's Sons Books for Young Readers through Edelweiss, with many thanks.