Review of Crenshaw

applegate_crenshawstar2 Crenshaw
by Katherine Applegate
Intermediate   Feiwel   243 pp.
9/15   978-1-250-04323-8   $16.99   g
e-book ed. 978-1-250-08022-6   $9.99

Jackson is a scientist, a skeptic, and nobody’s fool. He’s the resilient fifth-grader (the “most grown-up one in the house”) in a dreamy, overwhelmed family that has fallen on hard times. But sometimes even the hyper-competent need help, and when Jackson’s family faces homelessness once more, his former imaginary friend, a giant cat named Crenshaw who’s visible only to Jackson, makes a reappearance. Crenshaw is neither cute nor obviously supportive. He takes bubble baths, constantly asks for purple jelly beans, and makes gnomic pronouncements (“You need to tell the truth, my friend…To the person who matters most of all”). Jackson tries to banish him, but Crenshaw insists that he has been summoned. Applegate walks a tightrope through this whole robustly sweet narrative. Crenshaw is both real and imaginary. Jackson’s family is loving, optimistic, and functional in its way, but the tenuousness of the family’s situation and Jackson’s lack of control over his own fate are stressful. “Were we going to have enough to eat tomorrow?…Were we going to be able to pay the rent?…Would I go to the same school in the fall?…Would it [homelessness] happen again?” 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.

From the September/October 2015 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.

Sarah Ellis
Sarah Ellis is a Vancouver-based writer and critic, recently retired from the faculty of The Vermont College of Fine Arts.

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