An emotionally charged story about finding yourself — even when your mind is working against you, Calvin by Martine Leavitt is as much a look at a love, life and mental illness, as it is a love letter to the beloved Calvin & Hobbes comic strip.
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.
Leavitt’s narrative is packed with tension, as unreliable narrator Calvin questions just how much of what is happening to him is real and how much is a delusion caused by his schizophrenia. But even while you doubt his credibility, you trust that his heart is in the right place and that his emotions are genuine, even if his account of factual events may be questionable.
A large part of the book’s charm is its ode to the beloved Calvin & Hobbes comic strip and creator Bill Watterson. Leavitt gives her Calvin his very own Hobbes, his very own Susie, and his very own adventures — but its the tribute to such a well-known and beloved series that really shines through.
But as much as the book is a tribute to Watterson’s comic, Calvin is very much a story about mental illness and how it affects one individual. On the whole, this is a relatively fluffy and light story about mental illness — Calvin doesn’t veer too far into a dark place, and the story never delves too deeply into the consequences of his illness or how it affects (or will affect) his life. But you do see how it agonizes him; how his diagnosis triggers a desire to be “normal.” It’s heartbreaking, and yet it barely scratches the surface of the mental illness discussion.
Calvin is, on the whole, a sweet story with a charming premise. Though it touches on some heavy subject matter, it never delves too deep, keeping the book as a whole a fairly light, breezy read. It is in stores November 17th.