Published by Feiwel & Friends on September 22nd 2015
Genres: middle grade, contemporary
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In her first novel since winning the Newbery Medal, Katherine Applegate delivers an unforgettable and magical story about family, friendship, and resilience.
Jackson and his family have fallen on hard times. There's no more money for rent. And not much for food, either. His parents, his little sister, and their dog may have to live in their minivan. Again.
Crenshaw is a cat. He's large, he's outspoken, and he's imaginary. He has come back into Jackson's life to help him. But is an imaginary friend enough to save this family from losing everything?
Beloved author Katherine Applegate proves in unexpected ways that friends matter, whether real or imaginary.
When it comes to homelessness and poverty, it often a terrible situation for the people affected by the circumstances. However, poverty and the loss of a home hits kids the hardest. They often have little to no control over the circumstances, they are often confused and pushed to the side during domestic turmoil, and the absence of security, food and shelter can have a negative impact on their social and academic growth. Right now, a large portion of the world is battling the fall out from the financial irresponsibility of corporations, banks, and politicians. It is a very small surprise that current fiction is aimed to help children understand this influx of uncertainty in their lives.
Jackson is the older elementary child who has this issue hit his home life, hard. His father is struggling with a medical issue, often placing him out of commission from work, and his mother does the best to get by. Both of Jackson’s parents have shown to be flighty and avoidant when it comes to any possible hardship in life, often pushing him outside of the realm of childhood, turning him a bit more grim and serious at a young age. The author writes about the fears and the struggles of poverty-hit children, who often seek some comfort in unusual coping mechanisms. In Jackson’s case, he conjures up an imaginary, hulking cat to deflect his anxiety. Even though the subject matter was sad and heartbreaking, the book offered enough light-hearted dialog to avoid falling into the “darker” realm of middle grade fiction.
I loved the illustration of Crenshaw the cat around the chapter pages. It was one of the first things that drew me to the novel – the huge, lovable cat on the front of the novel.
I feel somewhat bad for not giving this book higher than a three, since the subject is so relevant, but I often wondered if the book could gone a bit deeper at times. The story shows the time line of living in a car, and the buried fears that comes with instability, but Jackson almost seemed like he was telling the story outside of himself. He acknowledged the fears and his emotions when the situation started to wear thin, but at times, I didn’t feel that he was much of a kid, and his dialog fell a bit flat at times. This doesn’t mean that I didn’t sympathize with him – my heart certainly ached for Jackson and his little sister, and it further broke my heart when I realized that this isn’t an isolated incident. I can’t tell you how many times I have seen school buses stopping outside of motels and weekly suites, and it just tears me up that these children are more than likely facing a struggle that is only tearing them down.
Applegate uses a delicate hand to balance out wit with reality when addressing the heavy subjects of poverty, hunger, and homelessness for children. Using Crenshaw in place of internal dialog and reason for Jackson gives the book a certain charm. I believe that this novel is a bit sparse, but does a wonderful job relating with children who are facing such issues in their current lifestyles.