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Crenshaw Paperback – September 26, 2017
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From School Library Journal
Gr 4–6—In her first novel since the Newbery-winning The One and Only Ivan (HarperCollins, 2012), Applegate tells the story of a 10-year-old boy whose imaginary friend helps him cope with a family crisis. Jackson, his parents, and his five-year-old sister once again are staring down the barrel of an impending eviction notice. What frustrates Jackson isn't just the lack of money: it's his artistically minded parents' tendency to gloss over their woes with humor and cheer rather than acknowledging the reality of their situation. It's understandably a shock to Jackson when an old friend reappears: Crenshaw, a seven-foot-tall talking cat, who first came into his life several years ago when the boy and his family were living out of their car shortly after his father was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis. Skeptical Jackson tries to dismiss Crenshaw as a figment of his imagination, but the cat's words of wisdom start to resonate with him. Employing sparse but elegant prose, Applegate has crafted an authentic protagonist whose self-possession and maturity conceal relatable vulnerability and fears. While sardonic Crenshaw may not be the warm and cuddly imaginary friend readers are expecting, he's the companion that Jackson truly needs as he begins to realize that he doesn't need to carry the weight of the world upon his shoulders. Though the ending wraps up a shade too neatly, overall, children will appreciate this heartbreaking novel. VERDICT A compelling and unflinchingly honest treatment of a difficult topic.—Mahnaz Dar, School Library Journal --This text refers to the Library Binding edition.
A Publishers Weekly Bestseller
“The tone is warm and, occasionally, quirkily funny, but it doesn't sugarcoat the effects of hunger and vulnerability. This novel adds a middle-grade perspective to the literature of imaginary friends and paints a convincing and compassionate portrait of a social class―the working poor―underrepresented in children's books.” ―The Horn Book, starred review
"This accessible and moving novel demonstrates how the creative resilience of a child’s mind can soften difficult situations, while exploring the intersection of imagination and truth." ―Publishers Weekly, starred review
"Children will appreciate this heartbreaking novel...a compelling and unflinchingly honest treatment of a difficult topic." ―School Library Journal, starred review
"...a quick read that encourages people of all ages to be honest with one another and value family and friends (real and imaginary!)" ―Booklist
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FOR PARENTS - CONTAINS SPOILERS
If your child is sensitive (like mine are), it may help to know that the imaginary friend is silly enough to break up the tension on a regular basis. Many of the most-difficult moments of the book happen in the past (from the previous time this boy had to live in the van with his family and their puppy for 14 weeks), so you know they eventually made it out. And although he mentions having seen his dad cry (the only time he had seen such a thing), most of the darker moments focus on things like the van being smelly, or how he didn't like his younger sister kicking him in her sleep (so he decorated a cardboard panel to put in between them). There's a lot of generosity/kindness from strangers, which helps a lot even though they *were* still living in a van, which keeps you empathizing with them but not spiraling into despair. There are also a couple of places where he says "I know other people have it much, much worse, but I still hate this," which again triggers empathy and understanding, without minimizing what anyone has to go through... making you aware of those darker stories, but not taking you into them. Finally, fortunately, at the end of this novel, the family finds a temporary place to stay (an old, run-down, one-room apartment) so again it's clearly not sunshine and roses, but hopeful. The author truly does a masterful job of introducing this difficult topic in a way that creates empathy while being enjoyable and (for most kids) non-traumatizing.
Jackson is a nine-year-old boy who lives with his mom and dad and his younger sister Robin. In an apartment. That they're about to be evicted from. Which means that they'll be having to live out of their run-down family car. Again. Because the family has on-going financial problems. Which in turn are partly because his dad is suffering from multiple sclerosis which is steadily diminishing his ability to work. It's a lot for a nine-year-old to have on his shoulders, even with the help of an imaginary friend.
Applegate does an excellent job showing how these problems are playing out through Jackson's eyes, and you really feel for him as he relates what's happening as you can see in this particularly moving section:
"After I got ready for bed, I lay on my mattress and thought things over.
-- I thought about the stuff I'd put in my keepsakes bag. Some photos. A spelling bee trophy. A bunch of nature books. My teddy bear. A clay statue of Crenshaw that I'd made when I was in second grade. My worn-out copy of A Hole Is To Dig.
-- I thought about Crenshaw and the surfboard.
-- I thought about the purple jelly beans.
-- Mostly though, I thought about the signs I'd been noticing.
-- I am very observant, which is a useful thing for a scientist to be. Here's what I'd been observing:
-- Big piles of bills.
-- Parents whispering.
-- Parents arguing.
-- Stuff getting sold, like the silver teapot my grandma gave my mom and our laptop computer.
-- The power going off for two days because we hadn't paid the bill.
-- Not much food except peanut butter and mac and cheese and Cup O Noodles.
-- My mom digging under the couch cushions for quarters.
-- My dad digging under the couch cushions for dimes.
-- My mom borrowing toilet paper rolls from work.
-- The landlord coming over and saying "I'm sorry" and shaking his head a lot.
-- It didn't make sense. My mom had three part-time jobs. My dad had two part-time jobs. You'd think that would add up to two whole actual jobs, but it didn't seem to.
-- I figured my parents had a plan for making everything okay, because parents always have a plan. But when I asked them what it was, they said stuff like maybe they could plant a money tree in the backyard,. Or maybe they could start their rock back up again and win a Grammy Award.
-- I didn't want to leave our apartment, but I could feel it coming, even if nobody said anything. I knew how things worked. I'd been through this before.
-- It was too bad, because I really liked where we lived, even though we'd only been there a couple of years. Swanlake Village was the name of our neighborhood. It didn't have any real swans. But all the mailboxes had swans on them, and the community pool had a swan painted on the bottom.
-- Swanlake Village wasn't a fancy place at all, just a regular old neighborhood. But it was friendly. It was the kind of place where you could smell hot dogs and burgers grilling every weekend. Where kids rode their scooters on the sidewalk and sold lousy lemonade for a quarter a cup. It was a place where you had friends you could count on, like Marisol.
-- You wouldn't have thought it was a place where people were worried or hungry or sad.
-- Our school librarian likes to say you can't judge a book by its cover. Maybe it's the same way with neighborhoods. Maybe you can't judge a place by its swans."
Crenshaw does draw on other sources for some of its inspiration, particularly when it comes to imaginary friends. One is Mary Chase's classic 1944 stageplay Harvey, where the main character's best friend is a six-foot white rabbit no one else can see or hear. Another is the 2007 film Ratatouille where the rat Remy frequently has conversations with the spirit of Auguste Gusteau, the human chef he idolizes. And yet another is the "Hide and Seek" episode of the animated TV show Teen Titans where one of the characters has an imaginary friend, an invisible giant stuffed bear named Bobby. And in a special turn, Crenshaw turns to Ray Bradbury's "I Sing The Body Electric" for what imaginary friends do when they're not around the humans who imagined them. Applegate also draws on more scholarly sources for the reasons kids have imaginary friends, but it's clear that she is on the side of those who believe that just because someone is imagined, it doesn't mean they aren't real. And
Highly recommended with the caution that this deals with some serious subjects that some readers - young or adult - may not want to think about. But probably should.
I really liked this one. Applegate made a book dealing with poverty and the kids who are just trying to make it. The fact that she kept it very realistic deserves much kudos. I have strong opinionated feelings when authors don't understand the real realities of being on hard times. I find that they lose the fact that there is still much love with families. Applegate nailed it.
As far as the story, I took an immediate liking to Jackson and just felt for his situation. I can understand why he might feel the need for an imaginary friend. Crenshaw made for the perfect friend.
Overall, this was a good story and I would highly recommend to both kids & adults.