Jackson knows that it’s all about to happen again. His family is having a garage sale for a lot of their stuff, allowing Jackson and his little sister to just pick one bag of items to keep. There just isn’t enough money for rent and Jackson feels hungry a lot of the time. His father doesn’t want to ask for assistance, preferring to find a way through on their own. When Jackson was younger, the family had lived in their minivan for awhile and now Jackson sees the same signs as before. When they lived in their car, Jackson met his imaginary friend, Crenshaw. Now even though Jackson is older, Crenshaw is back and bigger than ever. Crenshaw is a huge cat with a deep purr, who tells Jackson that he is there to help and encourages Jackson to just tell the truth. As Jackson’s world gets more complicated though, how in the world can an imaginary friend make a difference?
This is Applegate’s first novel for children since winning the Newbery Medal for The One and Only Ivan. Applegate imbues this new book with a shining magic of imagination. She keeps the wonder of Crenshaw real on many levels, not only for Jackson himself but also creating moments where readers will know that Crenshaw is much more than imaginary. This luminous touch keeps the entire book dazzling for readers.
It is even more important given the issues that the book explores. Family poverty and homelessness are critical in our world today and so few books tell that story from the point of view of a child experiencing it. Applegate keeps the story real here, focusing on the impact of being hungry, on the fear that being homeless generates in a child. She also makes Jackson a real hero. A child facing immense problems who, with the help of his imaginary friend, manages to tell his parents what this kind of life does to him. It is powerful, heart wrenching and true.
An important book that mixes an imaginary friend with the harsh reality of homelessness, this is a top pick for young readers. Appropriate for ages 7-11.
Reviewed from copy received from Feiwel & Friends.