Top positive review
"Tell the truth to the person who matters most. You."
Reviewed in the United States on December 4, 2017
Katherine Applegate's Crenshaw is a hard book to classify. Technically it's a YA fantasy novel, but that description would cause readers to expect something light and fanciful. And that is far from the case with Crenshaw. True, it's about a boy named Jackson and his imaginary friend, a man-sized talking cat named Crenshaw. But he's a boy having to face some adult problems that may be beyond an imaginary friend's ability to help with.
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.