I love this enchanting memoir/travel book by Savannah Grace. She is 14 as the book begins in 2005, when her tranquil life in Vancouver, Canada takes an abrupt change. After her parents’ divorce, Savannah’s mother decides to sell everything to backpack through China and Mongolia for a year with Savannah and two of her three siblings: Bree, 17, and Ammon, 25.
Savannah suffers the emotional trauma of leaving everything behind—friends, a comfortable lifestyle, her adored dog—for the unknown. Yet she comes to see this journey as sihpromatum, a blessing that initially appears as a curse.
It is beautifully written, the authentic, tender story of a young teen blossoming with maturity beyond her years. Savannah has an enormous talent for storytelling. Her insights and observations are often wise, and at other times, comical, yet always believable for a young teen. We see the world unfold through Savannah’s young eyes, yet she also provides the historical, cultural and political perspectives of her older brother, Ammon.
Savannah’s sense of scene is spot on, putting the reader right there beside her, seeing the sights, smelling, tasting, experiencing the strange and unusual, so different from what she and we are used to. Without judgment, she tries to understand the differences in cultures, to pare down to essentials, to the humanity we share. One of her anecdotes that I love, that reveals her inquisitive and compassionate nature, is when they travel to a remote school where their guide teaches. The local children have never seen westerners like Savannah and her family. She is timid at first then the whole family plunges in to have a true and joyous connection with the children that the reader feels.
This is such a delightful book, with beautiful reminders to see the world with Savannah’s compassion and respect for others. Money, trappings of success do not matter: it is humans who matter and despite many cultural differences, we share the same longings, fears, dreams, and desire for understanding.
Savannah doesn’t spare unsettling details. We fully feel her disgust at makeshift toilets, of unusual food, her long hours of painful travel, the blisters and sore muscles, the dirt and lack of showers, the incredible trials of traveling for long hours squished up against strangers. Yet there are also her achievements, of challenging herself to keep up with her family, and be a trouper. There are wonderful moments when she feels her part in the universe, and her love of her family, sibling annoyances and bickering aside.
Savannah doesn’t change, all the elements are within her: her intelligence, wit, natural charm, innate kindness and compassion and the insight that can only come from one who has a good heart and solid morality and ethics from her family.
At the end of this book, what lingers for Savannah is the generosity of strangers, the many people who helped her family along the way, the families who had welcomed them into their homes, “none of them expecting anything in return. I couldn’t forget their bountiful generosity despite their limited means.”
I came away very much liking Savannah, seeing her goodness and warm spirit and knowing such beauty/goodness comes from a loving family. Her website and twitter account are great fun to read, keeping me up to date, even her meeting up with Baagii from Mongolia after ten years separation. I look forward to reading more by Savannah Grace.