I received this book for free from Publisher in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.Calvin by Martine Leavitt
Also by this author: Blue Mountain
on November 17th 2015
In this latest novel from National Book Award finalist Martine Leavitt, a schizophrenic teen believes that Bill Watterson can save him from his illness if he creates one more Calvin & Hobbes comic strip.Seventeen-year-old Calvin has always known his fate is linked to the comic book character from Calvin & Hobbes. He was born on the day the last strip was published; his grandpa left a stuffed tiger named Hobbes in his crib; and he even has a best friend named Susie. As a child Calvin played with the toy Hobbes, controlling his every word and action, until Hobbes was washed to death. But now Calvin is a teenager who has been diagnosed with schizophrenia, Hobbes is back—as a delusion—and Calvin can't control him. Calvin decides that if he can convince Bill Watterson to draw one final comic strip, showing a normal teenaged Calvin, he will be cured. Calvin and Susie (and Hobbes) set out on a dangerous trek across frozen Lake Erie to track him down.
I feel like Martine Leavitt is an underrated children’s and young adult literature gem. My first encounter with Leavitt’s books was with My Book Of Life By Angel, a book that really made me think and depressed me and ugh, all the things. Calvin is my second experience reading one of Leavitt’s books, but one that has made me move her book about the goat and also that other book that I bought on Kindle, Keturah And Lord Death. You know how you read maybe two books by an author and then decide you want to read all of their things? That was my precise experience after reading Calvin as part of the #24in48 Readathon.
Calvin by Martine Leavitt is about a boy named Calvin. He is in high school and has not completed two very big projects that are due in English and in science class. When called on in grammar class, Calvin has an episode and he wakes up in the hospital. There, his parents come to see him as does a doctor, and Calvin learns that he is schizophrenic. He is worried that this may affect his ability to win the Change The World lottery. Calvin believes that he will be cured of his schizophrenia if he can walk across Lake Erie to Cleveland to meet Bill Waterson and have him draw a comic of Calvin as in Calvin and Hobbes at the age of 17 with no Hobbes, just normal. And so, with this idea or rather, plan in mind, Calvin undergoes a journey walking across the lake with his best friend Susie. The brilliance of Martine Leavitt is that you don’t know if the journey is real or false.
So, raise your hand up high if you are all about those unreliable narrators. I know I am a fan. The book Calvin is written in first person from Calvin’s perspective. As such, he is often interacting with a tiger named Hobbes who is obviously a figment of his imagination. However, the tiger is real to Calvin. There’s a central question that Calvin poses in the beginning about things being real vs things being true. This is one of those books that will make you think. And frankly also make you fall in love with Calvin just a little because he’s a good kid, ya know? I love that Leavitt does not demonize Calvin for his mental illness. She doesn’t make him seem like a monster or a violent or scary person. Instead, he just happens to think differently than I do. That’s okay. And also? Calvin wants to be a neuroscientist. He believes in what’s called the Change The World lottery where every 100 years or so, someone comes along and leaves their mark on the world – like Einstein for example. This aspect of Calvin’s personality is just one thing that makes him so compelling.
Aside from Calvin and his fictional friend Hobbes the tiger, there is Susie. She was Calvin’s best friend growing up. However, she got beautiful and became popular. She goes to visit Calvin at the hospital and when he tells her his plan, she refuses to let him go alone. Rather, Susie ends up going along with Calvin to walk across Lake Erie, even though she knows it is a long shot. She goes because she is a bit like a voice of reason. What unfurls is a renewed friendship with the potential for romance. I loved that Susie was normal, yet at the same time she accepts Calvin for who he is. She doesn’t try to change him or treat him as a problem to be solved. Kudos to Leavitt for making a person who has a mental illness not untouchable.
Calvin is a story with a journey that hearkens to the Odyssey in that along his way, Calvin the character meets a variety of colorful people. From an ice fisher to a poet, there are unexpected people out on the ice of Lake Erie. But more than the people that he meets, the journey is just so essential to Calvin’s well being. And the whole entire time we don’t even know if the journey is real or not. Hats off to Martine Leavitt for penning such a brilliant young adult novel with sensitivity to people who have mental illnesses.