The Compulsive Reader: Calvin by Martine Leavitt

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Calvin by Martine Leavitt

Seventeen-year-old Calvin has always felt a special affinity to the Calvin & Hobbes comic strip. He was born on the day the last strip was published, he had a stuffed tiger named Hobbes when he was little, and he even once had a best friend named Susie. Now that he's seventeen, Hobbes has returned--as a talking tiger with a mind of his own--and Calvin has been diagnosed with schizophrenia. Calvin desperately wants to be normal, so he figures that if he can just meet Bill Watterson and convince him to draw one last Calvin & Hobbes strip, depicting Calvin as grown up and okay, then he'll be okay, too. And so he sets off for Ohio, walking across a frozen Lake Erie, with one not-real tiger and one maybe-real Susie, determined to find Bill.

I love, love, love this book. Whether or not you know and love Calvin & Hobbes (and if you've never read Calvin & Hobbes, you need to!), this is a story that will resonate with you. Calvin is an unreliable narrator, but delightfully so. Because of his schizophrenia, even he isn't able to tell you for sure what's real and what isn't, but he is determined to see his only solution through, even if it's what others might call crazy. And that's a brilliant source of tension in the novel--as the stakes grow, the question of whether or not Susie is real becomes imperative, for her sake if she's real and for Calvin's if she's not. The Hobbes character is downright delightful, which makes it rather tragic that he's this frustratingly, damagingly fictive element of Calvin's mind.

When we're kids, we talk about things that are real and aren't real in such distinct terms, even though the lines are often blurred. (Santa Claus is real, by a faraway country or an animal never before seen in person may not be.) I think a common misconception about growing up is that we are better able tell what's real and what's not. But if anything, I think it becomes trickier. And Martine Leavitt addresses this brilliantly--are our feelings real, are our fears valid, does this belief hold weight, will this relationship withstand the trials of life? How do we know when something is real in all the ways that matter? All this, and more in this novel. Calvin is a brilliant little book, bursting with beauty and life.

ARC provided by publisher.

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