A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this book.
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.
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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?
- Author: Martine Leavitt
- Genre: Coming of Age
- Topics: Great Girl Role Models, Misfits and Underdogs
- Book type: Fiction
- Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux
- Publication date: November 17, 2015
- Publisher's recommended age(s): 12 - 18
- Number of pages: 192
- Available on: Nook, Hardback, iBooks, Kindle
- Last updated: April 15, 2021
Our editors recommend
For kids who love coming-of-age stories and classic cartoons
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