My One Hundred Adventures is whimsy and philosophy rolled up into a single young adult novel. The book centers on Jane, a twelve year old girl embarking on another languid summer break, expecting to spend the months of freedom from school on the beach where she lives with her poet mother and her three younger siblings. This summer won’t be the same though. Being on the cusp of young adulthood, she realizes that there is a world of adventure awaiting her, and she wants nothing less than one hundred adventures to fill her summer. (She only get to fourteen. Do I smell a sequel?)
It doesn’t take long before Jane realizes that adventures can come disguised in many different cloaks. What was to be a boring day of helping Nellie Phipps dump Bibles off on anyone willing to take one turns into an unexpected, and although not unwanted, definitely unsettling, ride in a rogue hot air balloon. She must land the runaway balloon by casting off the Bible ballast filling the basket. Once on the ground again, she realizes that her summer of adventure is just getting started!
The balloon ride and Bible air drop lead, unwittingly, to a horrendous summer babysitting job. The kids are raggedy and dirty, their mother is harsh and manipulative and their father is drunk and abusive. This is not the way Jane saw her exploit-filled summer playing out, but soon she realizes that this guilt-filled job is just another path to adventure.
The plot of the book is fairly straight-forward and Jane is a pretty average kid looking to take the step from being a child to an independent adolescent. It wasn’t necessarily the storyline or the characters that drew me into this book, so much as certain blocks of text that were both thoughtful and thought-provoking. For example, when early in the book Jane is trying to understand why an older woman at their church has no interest in her ramblings at the activities of her day, she says: “She had another sort of day and will never know ours. Suddenly I realized that everyone in the whole world is, at the end of the day, staring at a dusky horizon, owner of a day that no one else will ever know.” ( 21). How true this is! At the end of a day, even after telling our stories, we each have had our own day that no one else has lived. It is ours and ours alone.
Another example of a line from the book which I just love is, “Never have I felt so much like a candle on a cake ready to be lit.” (28). Horvath uses this description to illustrate how Jane feels as she sees hot air balloons for the first time and is desperately hoping one of the operators will offer her a ride. I’ve often felt that same excitement as a big event approaches, one edge, waiting for the new adventure to begin.
Horvath’s writing style reminds me a lot of Kate DiCamillo’s Because of Winn-Dixie. While both books are set in real places, in current times, with nothing supernatural or necessarily extraordinary taking place with the characters, they each still carry with them a bit of a fairy tale feel. Maybe it is just the beachside, summer setting in My One Hundred Adventures that makes the reader feel a bit of magic is taking place or maybe it is embarking on a season of growing-up with Jane. The lines of youthful philosophy are definitely touching and make the short 130 pages seem even less than they are. The writing style and sense of first-time adventure earn Polly Horvath’s My One Hundred Adventures: