Summary

Download PDF Print Page Citation Share Link

Last Updated on January 12, 2022, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1177

Author: Martine Leavitt (b. 1953)

First published: 2015

Type of work: Novel

Type of plot: Coming-of-age drama; Adventure

Time of plot: Early 2010s

Locales: Leamington, Ontario, Canada; Lake Erie

Principal characters

Calvin, a seventeen-year-old recently diagnosed with schizophrenia

Susie McLean, his best friend

Bill Watterson , the creator...

(The entire section contains 1177 words.)

Unlock This Study Guide Now

Start your 48-hour free trial to unlock this Calvin study guide. You'll get access to all of the Calvin content, as well as access to more than 30,000 additional guides and more than 350,000 Homework Help questions answered by our experts.

  • Summary
Start your 48-Hour Free Trial

Author: Martine Leavitt (b. 1953)

First published: 2015

Type of work: Novel

Type of plot: Coming-of-age drama; Adventure

Time of plot: Early 2010s

Locales: Leamington, Ontario, Canada; Lake Erie

Principal characters

Calvin, a seventeen-year-old recently diagnosed with schizophrenia

Susie McLean, his best friend

Bill Watterson, the creator of the Calvin and Hobbes comic strip

Noah, a poet living in seclusion on the frozen Lake Erie

The Story

Although his parents named him after the theologian John Calvin (1509–64), seventeen-year-old Calvin's grandfather has always insisted that the name was linked to Calvin and Hobbes. This real-life comic strip, syndicated in newspapers from November 1985 through December 1995, featured an imaginative six-year-old boy and his adventures with his stuffed toy tiger, Hobbes. In Leavitt's novel, not only is it revealed that his grandfather gave baby Calvin a stuffed tiger named Hobbes, but Calvin's best friend is a girl named Susie, which also mirrors the comic strip. When Calvin was nine, Hobbes was destroyed after being put through the washing machine one too many times, and the teenage Calvin sadly notes that his world became less full of possibilities the day that Hobbes "died."From CALVIN: A NOVEL © 2015 by Martine Leavitt. Reprinted by permission of Farrar, Straus and Giroux Books for Young Readers. All Rights Reserved.

Now a high school senior in Ontario, Canada, Calvin is a loner on the verge of flunking two classes when he suddenly hears a voice in his head that he knows to be Hobbes. When Calvin ends up in the hospital after a schizophrenic episode, he tells the doctor and his parents that he needs to convince Bill Watterson, the real-life American cartoonist who created Calvin and Hobbes, to draw a final strip featuring a grown-up Calvin without Hobbes. The doctor points out that delusions involving a relationship with a famous person are a common symptom of schizophrenia, but Calvin remains convinced that this is the only way he can be cured. He decides to make a grand gesture to attract Watterson's attention by hiking across the frozen Lake Erie from Canada to Ohio, where the retired and reclusive cartoonist lives in the United States.

When Susie visits Calvin in the hospital, he shares his plan with her. When her attempts to dissuade him fail, she decides to join him instead. Calvin is glad of the company, but he cannot decide whether Susie is real or another delusion like Hobbes, who continues to talk to him. After purchasing cold weather gear, the pair—or trio, as Calvin sees it—sets out, passing time during the difficult and monotonous trek by discussing various philosophical and personal questions. Eventually, they delve into the reasons why their childhood friendship dwindled, discovering that they now have romantic feelings for one another.

Unfortunately, because their progress is slower than expected, and because Calvin feels compelled to give some of their meager food supply to the imaginary Hobbes, their journey quickly becomes dangerous. They spend one night in a makeshift cabin inhabited by a poet named Noah, who once met Watterson and who has an interesting perspective on schizophrenia. The rest of the time, Calvin and Susie make do with a tent, eventually leaving even that behind when it slows them down too much. Just as Susie is about to succumb to the cold and the ice begins to crack around them, a rescue helicopter arrives. Once safe, Calvin realizes that the only person who could have known where to send help is Watterson, to whom Calvin had written a brief letter before embarking on his quest. Calvin concludes that instead of trying to drive the imaginary Hobbes out of his head, he should allow himself to be treated while also accepting that his flaws make him both valuable and unique.

Critical Evaluation

Written in the form of a second, extended letter from Calvin to Watterson meant to explain Calvin's mission while also serving as a project for his English class, the novel's structure effectively mirrors Calvin's thought processes, with short chapters and sparse sentences discussing philosophical questions. In particular, Calvin and Susie draw upon some of the real-life Watterson's stated beliefs regarding artistic integrity and motivation. Calvin also reflects upon the "personality" of the vast and frozen Lake Erie and the difference between things that are "real" versus things that are "true." Additionally, as Calvin includes reproductions of the dialogue he has had with Hobbes (as well as the real figures in his life), the reader is given firsthand insight into what he experiences during his schizophrenic episodes and how his mind works. The eerie setting and the novel's lack of quotation marks for dialogue, as well as intentional blank spaces to indicate when characters are silent, further add to the story's surreal atmosphere.

The novel excels in the way it evokes the comic strip's flavor, which is particularly important because most of the book's target audience will have been born after the comic strip ended. At the same time, readers familiar with the original material can easily imagine Leavitt's Calvin's voice as that of an older Calvin from the comic strip. In addition, brief sections in italics depict Calvin imagining third-person narratives about himself as Spaceman Spiff, one of the comic strip Calvin's imaginative alter egos. Finally, in spite of the book's unusual structure and humorous tone, the author subtly conveys the potential danger of Calvin's schizophrenia if left untreated, primarily via Calvin's fear that the imaginary Hobbes may become violent. In the end, however, Calvin is able to channel Hobbes's potential aggression into strength with which to face his own fears.

Calvin's eventual willingness to treat his medical condition may serve as commentary on the controversy surrounding the comic's final published strip. The official strip portrays Calvin and Hobbes in a large empty field, agreeing that the world is a magical place full of possibilities to explore together. Many readers reportedly found this ending anticlimactic, and a rumor circulated that Watterson's syndicate had rejected an alternate strip depicting Calvin as no longer capable of imagining Hobbes due to taking medication. This widely circulated "alternate" strip, still believed by some to be real, was interpreted as censure against medicating children with attention deficit or other disorders. In the novel, however, Leavitt seems to straddle the line between the two possible endings—her version of Calvin indeed begins taking medication for his condition, but it does not destroy his creativity and natural intelligence. This balanced and understated approach is further evidence of the author's subtlety and considerate narrative skill.

Further Reading

  • Review of Calvin, by Martine Leavitt. Kirkus, 1 Sept. 2015, p. 84. Literary Reference Center, search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=lfh&AN=109181560&site=lrc-live. Accessed 1 Dec. 2016.
  • Review of Calvin, by Martine Leavitt. Publishers Weekly, 31 Aug. 2015, p. 94. Literary Reference Center, search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=lfh&AN=109250223&site=lrc-live. Accessed 1 Dec. 2016.
  • Hunt, Jonathan. Review of Calvin, by Martine Leavitt. Horn Book Magazine, Nov./Dec. 2015, pp. 81–82. Literary Reference Center, search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=lfh&AN=110406774&site=lrc-live. Accessed 1 Dec. 2016.
Illustration of PDF document

Download Calvin Study Guide

Subscribe Now