A Moment of Zen in Haven Jacobs Saves the Planet

Barbara Dee's picture

It’s hard to be objective about your own writing. Sometimes you hate a chapter simply because it was a struggle to write. Or you fall in love with it because it reminds you of something personal. Or because you’re proud of a joke. Or a single word. 

All that said, I think my favorite scene in HAVEN JACOBS SAVES THE PLANET is one near the end. Haven has already made two semi-disastrous efforts to stage a meaningful protest about the presence of toxic chemicals in the local river. Now that she’s camping out overnight, she lies awake in her tent, despairing as she compares herself to her idol, climate activist Kirima Ansong (“She was brave a bold, a true leader in the world. And I was just…this kid. A twelve-year-old in a sour-smelling sleeping bag.”)

 A Moment of Zen in Haven Jacobs Saves the Planet
with my dog Ripley, in front of the stream that inspired the River Project in HAVEN JACOBS. (Unfortunately the stream had no water, due to a drought)

Finally, Haven gives up on sleep and steps out of her tent to discover her older brother, Carter, sitting on a rock, watching something on his phone. Not too long ago, Carter would tease Haven mercilessly, making fun of her sensitivity, even her switch to vegetarianism. But as he comes to respect Haven’s obsession with the climate crisis, and also with saving the Belmont River, the siblings have forged an alliance which surprises even their parents.

Still, Haven isn’t sure how Carter will respond when she asks him the question that haunts her: “When we’re grownups, what do you think Belmont will be like?”

At first Carter defaults to teasing: “What do you mean? Like, will there be a different pizza place? Or a movie theater?”

Haven replies that she’s asking about “climate stuff”: “Will the whole town be underwater? Or maybe a big hurricane will pull up all the trees…”

When Carter tells Haven she’s being “way too cheerful” for him, Haven calmly tells him not to tease, and confesses that she’s scared that “nothing we do makes any difference.” Finally Carter admits he’s scared too—and then tries to comfort his sister by assuring her that “a lot of governments are starting to listen to climate scientists.” 

He even “smooshes” Haven’s hair. It’s a tender moment between two siblings who’ve had a rocky relationship, and I think it shows how both of them have grown since the beginning. 

I especially like how this chapter ends. After Carter yawns “loudly, the way you do only in front of family,” he returns to his tent. But Haven remains outside:
For a while, I sat by myself, listening to the crickets, counting the stars. Maybe there were constellations we didn’t know about. Other worlds, other galaxies, too, where everything was safe and protected.

I never thought this way when I was in my bedroom…staring at the ceiling when I couldn’t sleep. But somehow, being outdoors at night, breathing the sweet, cool air, made me wonder. And for the first time in forever, I actually felt peaceful. 

I typed these words thinking that after everything she’d been through, all the anxious moments and failed attempts to save the river—not to mention the planet!-- Haven needed a moment of Zen. But as I read back what I’d written, I realized that I needed it too.

 A Moment of Zen in Haven Jacobs Saves the Planet

Barbara Dee is the author of twelve middle grade novels including Violets Are Blue, Haven Jacobs Saves the Planet, My Life in the Fish Tank, Maybe He Just Likes You, Everything I Know About You, Halfway Normal, and Star-Crossed. Her books have earned several starred reviews and have been named to many best-of lists, including The Washington Post’s Best Children’s Books, the ALA Notable Children’s Books, the ALA Rise: A Feminist Book Project List, the NCSS-CBC Notable Social Studies Trade Books for Young People, and the ALA Rainbow List Top Ten. Barbara lives with her family, including a naughty cat named Luna and a sweet rescue hound named Ripley, in Westchester County, New York.

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