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Running Press Book Publishers
Ages 8 - 12
Twelve-year-old Caleb is shorter, frailer, and more protected than most kids his age. That's because he has cystic fibrosis, a diagnosis meaning lungs that fill with mucus and a shortened lifespan. Caleb tries not to let his disorder define him, but it can be hard with an overprotective mom and a perfect big brother.
Then Caleb meets Kit—a vibrant, independent, and free girl—and his world changes instantly. Kit reads Caleb's palm and tells him they are destined to become friends. She calls birds down from the sky and turns every day into an adventure. Her magic is contagious, making Caleb question the rules and order in his life. But being Kit's friend means embracing deception and danger, and soon Caleb will have to decide if his friendship with Kit is really what's best for him—or her.
I received a copy of Caleb and Kit from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.
I enjoyed this sweet story of friendship and families. It tackles some really tough issues for kids: abuse/neglect, mental illness, terminal illness, divorce, etc. But it does so in a very sensitive way that opens the door for conversations between parents and children.
Caleb is suffering from cystic fibrosis and is dealing with his parents' divorce, his dad's new girlfriend with baby on the way, and his own poor health and impending death. He finds refuge in his friendship with Kit, a strange, imaginative girl who believes in fairies. Kit has her own problems: her mother is mentally ill and severely abuses and neglects Kit.
I really only have a few complaints: First is Caleb's dad, who is a self-centered, emotionally-absent father. Only at the end do we get the hint that his being a jerk may come from his fear of losing Caleb, but I only got that because I'm an adult and made those subtle connections. I doubt kids would be able to do that. He really is horrible, though I suspect some kids from divorced families might relate, though many others (including divorced dads) might take offense to his character.
Second, I am wary about blaming Kit's mother's abuse on mental illness. People with mental illness already must battle the stigma of the disease, of which there are endless variations. With proper treatment, many people with mental illnesses, including members of my own family, live stable and happy lives. Conversely, there are plenty of abusive, violent people who are perfectly "normal", for lack of a better term. I just felt the insertion of mental illness was unnecessary.
Finally, I would like to have had a little more information about what happens to Kit. She supposedly ends up with a nice elderly couple and is very happy. But that gives the false impression that kids in foster care are always safe and happy. That just isn't true. There are a lot of good foster families out there, but a lot of foster kids continue to experience abuse. Not that that is appropriate to discuss in a middle grade novel. But it just seemed too trite of an explanation.
Don't get me wrong. Caleb and Kit is a worthy read. I actually enjoyed every page and would feel comfortable handing this to my 9-year-old son to read. Unlike so many books, it does not have a tidy, happily ever after ending, but the end is satisfying. Despite my complaints, the upside to the issues presented is that parents can read this book and help their kids learn to spot signs of abuse in others, or in themselves. And maybe this story can give them the courage to do something about it.
Sexuality: Mild (kissing)