A Lot or a Little?
What you will—and won't—find in this book.
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.
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
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 & Scariness
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).
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Sex, Romance & Nudity
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."
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Calvin remarks that his worried mom "looks like crap."
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Products & Purchases
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."
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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.
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."
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