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Thursday, September 17
My rating: ★★★
Publisher: Feiwel & Friends
Date of publication: September 22, 2015
Age: Grades 4 - 6
Genre: Fantastical realistic fiction (speculative fiction)
Themes: poverty, homelessness, imaginary friends, family relationships, truth
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. But along comes Crenshaw. 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, just like last time. But is an imaginary friend enough to save this family from losing everything?
This was a tad disappointing for me. It's not a terrible book, which is why I'm still giving it three stars, but I had higher hopes. To me, it just came off...weird. And this is why: Applegate juxtaposes the stress and heartache of a boy dealing with the imminent homelessness of his family with a giant bubble-bath-enjoying imaginary cat. Now, this sort of premise worked in Flora & Ulysses, because DiCamillo has a more humorous writing style with punctures of thought-provoking serious aspects. Applegate, on the other hand, is just too serious of a writer. Her writing is awkwardly punctured with a giant cat is asking for purple jelly beans. It just didn't jive. It really bugged me.
Without Crenshaw, though, Applegate does tackle a pretty harrowing topic in a way that could really teach kids empathy and awareness for those around them. So yes, I appreciated her addressing yet another social issue in a thought-provoking way (which is why I really enjoyed The One & Only Ivan, Applegate's Newbery winner). Jackson is a believable and respectable character, a young boy clinging to facts and science to help him muddle through his difficult home life. Of course, the point of the book is getting him to learn how to move past simple facts and address what he's feeling, especially in regards to his relationship with his parents. Does he do that in the end? Yes. Is anything else really solved? No. But I appreciated the realistic nature of it (poverty does not just solve itself easily).
In the end, I'm not in a hurry to recommend it. I liked the readalikes Flora & Ulysses and Hold Fast better. But it will continue to get lots of praise and recognition, so it's up to you.
Find it at your library or on Amazon
Digital ARC provided through NetGalley