Content/Trigger Warnings: Talk of homelessness, starvation, grief
“And right then I knew, the way you know that it’s going to rain long before the first drop splatters on your nose, that something was about to change.”
Things couldn’t be more dark and difficult. Jackson and his family has fallen into some hard times. And each inching second seems like their family is one step away from living in the family car. Again. Then Crenshaw starts reappearing, again. He’s large, outspoken, and he’s Jackson’s imaginary friend. He’s back and this time he’s here to help save Jackson and his family from losing everything.
Friends, I have one again fallen into an emotional hole of books that hit close to home. In read this book back in October 2018 and I decided to pick this book back up again this fall as well. There couldn’t have been a more perfect time to read this book! I’m going to be honest, I’m about to get sappy, emotional, and I’m going to get personal. Crenshaw is the book I needed as a child, but is the book I longed for as an adult.
Jackson is a no-nonsense kind of kid. He believes in science and he prefers the facts over stories. He’s determined to grow up to be the best animal scientist he can be. Oh yeah, and he has an imaginary friend who just so happens to be a giant cat. Crenshaw is outspoken, appears at the most random moments, and adores Jackson. Only Jackson doesn’t want Crenshaw around. He wants Crenshaw to disappear so he can deal with much bigger issues. However, Crenshaw is here to help and he’s going to help Jackson whether he wants it or not.
“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.”
I love this book with my whole heart and soul. Applegate does a beautiful job of weaving together a story that address really important topics that hit close to home. One of those topics is how parents handle life changing, hard situations when their kids are involved. In Crenshaw, Jackson’s family falls on incredibly hard times. The money is all gone, the rent bills are piling up, there’s no food in the apartment, they’re selling off a lot of their things, the parents are fighting a lot, and Jackson’s parents keep putting up a happy front to make things seem fine. You can really see how the happy front really affects Jackson and his sister in this book. While Jackson’s sister it’s fully aware due to her age, Jackson is old enough to put all the clues together and knows that things are changing, history repeating itself. I loved that. I love that we get to see things from a child’s perspective and truly see children are very much aware of the things going on in their surroundings. To truly see that they really just want the truth from their parents. What had me breaking at the seams was the fact that this middle-grade book addresses homelessness and hunger. It’s not often talked about in books, let alone middle-grade books, but every second broke my heart. Looking at the way Jackson handles a lot of the situations that pop up in this book, I couldn’t find a more better character who mirrors my own. And I think Crenshaw does a marvelous job of accurately showing what so many children go through out there when it comes to families struggling financially or going through homelessness.
For me, personally, Jackson is so easy for me to relate to. Growing up, while my family never ended up homeless, we had a lot of financial struggles. There were times where we would go a week or two without food or we would go a whole month just eating ramen before we could actually have groceries in our house. I was also in a same position like Jackson when he was constantly seeing his parents fight from a distance. It’s not often talked about, but at such young ages children are very perceptive and can figure things out without too much details. It’s not hard to see things from a distance and notice just how bad things are becoming. Schooling wise, Jackson wasn’t really able to participate in things he had a deep interest in like soccer camp for example. Even though he said it was fine he was deeply conflicted and upset about the whole thing. From my own experiences, when you’re growing up in a situation where there’s financial struggles, there’s hardly any food on the table, you constantly sacrifice things you want to do at school or even sell off your own items so you can help your family, you convince yourself that things are fine or they’ll get better, but there’s a lot of internal damage that comes with all of that. However, convincing and believing are two different things when you’re a child. As you read in this book, you see at what lengths Jackson reaches because he’s spent most of his childhood convincing himself he’s fine with everything . He reaches a point where he is splitting himself in two with what he’s trying to convince himself and what he truly believes and feels. It’s absolutely heartbreaking and really hits in the gut. His story is so strong that you can’t help, but getting emotional just like he does.
Then we have Crenshaw himself. We find out that Jackson doesn’t really have a lot of friends. In fact his social circle just consists of one girl named Marisol. Other than that his other friend is one black, giant cat named Crenshaw. Crenshaw is basically Jackson’s helper of coming to terms with his true feelings about his situation and convinces Jackson to just speak his mind. “Tell the truth; it will set you free.” As you read you come to terms that Crenshaw isn’t any imaginary friend, but he’s like a guide for Jackson. The best term I can think of, Crenshaw is like a lighthouse in the eye of a bad storm and Jackson is a boat who needs to get to shore. Crenshaw may be an imaginary friend, but for Jackson he is very real. We get moments of Jackson trying to understand how he can be his imaginary friend and touch him, but no one else can really experience him or see him. He’s like this embodiment of the childhood Jackson should of have, but due to all the struggles his family is going through Jackson has somehow convinced himself that he’s too old for an imaginary friend, there’s a scientific reason for him seeing his imaginary friend, and just overall Jackson wants to reject that part of himself without realizing just how badly he needs Crenshaw in his life in this moment. Crenshaw is such an important key to this story. Without Crenshaw, Jackson would never come to terms with his feelings or even confine in Marisol about his imaginary friend and some of the things happening with his family.
“What bothered me most, though, was that I couldn’t fix anything. I couldn’t control anything. It was like driving a bumper car without a steering wheel. I kept getting slammed, and I just had to sit there and hold on tight.”
The greatest thing this book offers is this book opens the floor up for so many discussions. From ‘How do parents deal with a curve ball unexpected life situation- totally unplanned that affect their children?‘ to ‘How does a father help support his family when disabled? How can a wife/ mother be most supportive in the most challenging situations?‘ It’s an incredibly powerful book that young kids will be able to relate to and it allows them to go to their parents and have open discussion. This is also a really touching book that many adults can read to because it allows them to become more open with their children and have a larger family discuss. It’s incredible to think have much this one little book can change and impact. I have never been the same since reading this book and I always think about it around this time of year.
Overall, this was a beautiful book to read. A piece of me has been taken by this book and I couldn’t be happier with it. I definitely wish more readers were reading Crenshaw and having discussions about this book. This is a book that truly shows how messy life can be and how even though things may become really hard, you will always have the ones who love you. If you find you have a chance to pick a copy of this book up, please do. It’s a remarkable book and I just can’t stop recommending it with my whole heart and soul!
“Life is messy. It’s complicated. It would be nice if life were always like this.” He drew an imaginary line that kept going up and up. “But life is actually a lot more like this.” He made a jiggly line that went up and down like a mountain range. “You just have to keep trying.”