Calvin

Book review by
Mary Eisenhart, Common Sense Media
Calvin Book Poster Image
Quirky, compelling tale of schizophrenic teen on quest.

Parents say

No reviews yetAdd your rating

Kids say

age 11+
Based on 2 reviews

A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this book.

Educational Value

The story is a variation on the theme of the hero's quest, among other things, and invites comparison to other versions. It also assumes a certain level of knowledge on the reader's part, as in being able to get the reference(s) when infant Calvin's grandfather announces that no grandchild of his is going to be named after John Calvin and presents him with a stuffed tiger to save him from this fate (by linking him to the cartoon Calvin instead). As Calvin deals with a diagnosis of schizophrenia, he acquires (and passes on) information about the condition and its impact on day-to-day life. There's also a lot about natural and cultural aspects of Lake Erie in winter, including the various ways humans have polluted the lake over the centuries.

Positive Messages

Strong messages about the kindness of strangers and the tenacity of people who love you no matter what, as well as standing up for yourself, taking control of your own life, and learning to look out for your loved ones. Also navigating the fuzzy borderline between what's "real" and what's "true," especially as it relates to participants on your adventure.

Positive Role Models & Representations

Calvin's mental state leads him to some scary places and scarier choices, but he shows a good deal of ingenuity, planning skills, and sheer determination in pursuing a quest that no sane person would attempt. Susie (whether she exists or not) is the star here, determined to stand by Calvin no matter what but also to keep him from running off the rails. Hobbes (whether he exists or not) brings a lot of trouble but also gives Calvin courage to live his own life. Adults -- Calvin's parents, his shrink, his teachers, and an assortment of characters the teens meet on their journey -- all mean well and prove helpful, often in odd ways.

Violence

Calvin punches a bully. Hobbes goes on at some length about what it feels like to die by washing machine. The teens' journey includes encounters with monsters (who, again, may or may not exist).

Sex

Calvin and Susie (who may be a hallucination) sleep together, albeit in separate sleeping bags, during their quest; when they finally kiss (and kiss and kiss ... ), Calvin says, "That kiss felt like the meaning of life." There's also this bit from Calvin's dad, when Calvin explains his theory that he was actually created by Bill Watterson: "Seriously, Calvin. You think you were made by Bill Watterson? I mean, I was there when your mother and I made you, and you don't want to make me tell you about it."

Language

Calvin remarks that his worried mom "looks like crap."

Consumerism

Occasional mention of real products, such as iPhones and GMC trucks, as part of scene setting. Though Bill Watterson has no apparent connection with this book, it could increase the interest in Calvin and Hobbes collections among teens.

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

The cabdriver who drops the teens off by the side of the frozen lake remarks, "In my day kids killed themselves with heroin."

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Calvin is the story of a Canadian 17-year-old just diagnosed with schizophrenia who embarks on a dangerous midwinter trek across Lake Erie to find reclusive Calvin and Hobbes cartoonist Bill Watterson. In fact, it's written in the form of a letter to Watterson. The teen is accompanied by companions Susie and Hobbes, who (along with assorted perils they encounter) may or may not exist. In Calvin's own mind, the quest makes perfect sense; wiser souls try to keep him safe. Though there's little content that's problematic for younger readers (teens exchange heartfelt kisses, and the strongest language is "crap"), the story requires a certain maturity and the ability to navigate a narrative that's part mythic quest, part teen romance, part psychodrama, and part hallucination. It also assumes an acquaintance with the Calvin and Hobbes comic strip.

User Reviews

  • Parents say
  • Kids say

There aren't any reviews yet. Be the first to review this title.

Teen, 14 years old Written byevEryDaY March 31, 2016

Absolutely amazing!!

Very insightful look into schizophrenic teen's mind, I think that every kid, teen, or adult should read this but there is some parts that may be confusing... Continue reading
Kid, 11 years old December 2, 2017

So good

It's very emotional, there's lots of crying. "Calvin " made me think about life and family and my mind. I learned so much from it.

What's the story?

Seventeen-year-old Canadian kid CALVIN has always had a cosmic connection to cartoonist Bill Watterson and his legendary Calvin and Hobbes comic strip (syndicated 1985-1995) since he was born on the day the last strip ran and his grandfather named him after the character. So, when he's diagnosed with schizophrenia in the wake of a meltdown at school -- caused in part by the sudden reappearance of Hobbes, his long-gone stuffed tiger/boon companion -- he figures Watterson can cure him by drawing a strip of him healthy and Hobbes-less. Soon he's walking across a frozen Lake Erie in hopes of meeting the cartoonist, accompanied by longtime friend Susie and also by Hobbes, both of whom may be hallucinations. The story is written in the form of a letter to Watterson.

Is it any good?

A good knowledge of legendary comic strip Calvin and Hobbes may not be absolutely necessary to appreciate Canadian author Martine Leavitt's engaging, oddball story, but it sure helps. Especially when the narrative switches (as it often does) to the adventures of cartoon Calvin's alter ego Spaceman Spiff in mid-crisis. Fans of the strip will revel in the alternate realities, the shout-outs and the in-jokes, while newbies may be more than a bit at sea. Awkward, brilliant Calvin's probably distorted perspective and constant uncertainty about what's real and what's not are part of what makes the narrative compelling. But real girl or imaginary figment, Susie's the star here, tenacious in friendship and taking no nonsense. What's not to love about things like her exchange with the reclusive ice fisherman who gives the teens some much-needed help:

"Noah: I'm a poet. We need solitude.

"Susie: So as long as you make a poem out of it, it's OK to hurt people?

"Noah: Art is the pinnacle of human achievement.

"Susie: Being a decent human being is the pinnacle of human achievement."

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about quest stories. Why are they so popular? Do you have any favorites? Do you prefer the ones that end well or the ones that go badly?

  • Do you have friends or family members who deal with some form of mental illness? How does it affect their daily lives and their relationship with you?

  • If you were going on a quest, what would it be about? Whom would you take along? What challenges would you expect, and how would you prepare for them -- and how would you prepare for the ones you're not expecting? Whom do you think might help?

Book details

Themes & Topics

Browse titles with similar subject matter.

For kids who love coming-of-age stories and classic cartoons

Our editors recommend

Top advice and articles

Common Sense Media's unbiased ratings are created by expert reviewers and aren't influenced by the product's creators or by any of our funders, affiliates, or partners.

See how we rate

About these links

Common Sense Media, a nonprofit organization, earns a small affiliate fee from Amazon or iTunes when you use our links to make a purchase. Thank you for your support.

Read more

Our ratings are based on child development best practices. We display the minimum age for which content is developmentally appropriate. The star rating reflects overall quality and learning potential.

Learn how we rate