Crenshaw by Katherine Applegate

Crenshaw has already won an award from the NCTE and is on the SLJ Best Books of 2015 list. Crenshaw is a character-driven and cat-driven contemporary realistic (if you leave out the imaginary magic cat) novel about a ten-yea-old boy, Jackson. Jackson loves facts. He gave away how the magician pulled a bunny from the hat. He doles out animal facts. He wants to know what’s going to happen to his family. His parents are behind on rent, his dad had to leave his job as a construction worker because he got MS and can’t move around as well as before. His mother got laid off and now works part time as a waitress. But his parents are also goofy and upbeat, which would make every other kid happy, except for Jackson. He is angry that no one will tell him what’s really going on? Are they going to have to live in their van like that one time when he was in first grade? He just wants to know.

This is about kids who shouldn’t have to have anxiety yet. This is about the truth. Jackson wants to know the truth of the situation. His parents are sugar coating the truth. And then Crenshaw pops up again. And Crenshaw wants Jackson to tell his parents the truth about his struggles. But Jackson just wants Crenshaw to go away, kind of. Crenshaw is a giant, person-sized cat who loves purple jelly beans and bubble baths. He almost feels like the Cheshire cat, but less evil. Jackson hasn’t seen Crenshaw since the last time his family was homeless. He is bothered by the fact that a kid so old could still have an imaginary friend and does multiple experiments to see whether he’s hallucinating or not.

But Crenshaw plays an essential role. He is there to tell the truth and prod Jackson to find out the truth about his situation. He is there to cry on. He is there to remind Jackson what he really wants in life. He is a rather grown up imaginary friend and often annoys Jackson with amusing scenes when the mood needs to be lightened (for the audience as well).

The ending is realistically happy, not promising a fairytale and not ending in dire straits. And it provides closure and answers for our anxious Jackson.

This is a great look at the issues of homelessness, financial instability, and parents who have lost jobs through no fault of their own. It makes homelessness seem like something normal that can happen, but can also be dealt with. The giant furry cat helps Jackson, but it also cushions the blow of reality for young readers as well, making this a great outlet for discussion on this topic. Everyone could use a Crenshaw to keep them honest to themselves and encourage them through tough times, even if he does try to take all your jellybeans.​

read alikes: (ish) A Dog Called Homeless, One for the Murphies