Crenshaw by Katherine Applegate [in School Library Journal]
Jackson was 7 the last time he saw his bubble-bathing, purple jelly bean-loving friend Crenshaw. But now that Jackson is 10, the oversize imaginary feline explains, “You need a bigger friend now.”
Jackson and his family must sell everything they can to pay their overdue rent and avoid living in their minivan – again. Jackson knows hunger and daily uncertainty too well. He’s shoplifted to feed his (real-life) dog and his younger sister.
He can’t tell anyone about his dire situation: “Sometimes facts are too hard to share.” But with Crenshaw’s urging, he’ll finally confront his parents with the most difficult conversation of his young life.
Applegate here addresses challenging subjects that haunt children forced to grow up too soon. Crenshaw proves to be the perfect, gentle guide: “Imaginary friends are like books. We’re created, we’re enjoyed, we’re dog-eared and creased and then we’re tucked away until we’re needed again.” Narrator Kirby Heyborne keeps perfect pace with Jackson’s frustrations and resolve, imbues Crenshaw with whimsy and wisdom, and easily distinguishes the many supporting characters – especially Jackson’s best friend Marisol – with deftness and grace.
Verdict: An essential acquisition for middle grade collections everywhere.
Readers: Middle Grade