9/13/17

Caleb and Kit, by Beth Vrabel

Caleb and Kit, by Beth Vrabel (Running Press,September 12, 2017) is a moving story of a friendship between a boy and a girl, both of whom are facing tremendous challenges. Caleb has cystic fibrosis, and has spent his life being protected by his mother.  Now that he's twelve, he's kicking against the smothering care (including the indignity of being sent to a summer camp populated by little kids), but is it a fact that he needs his mother's care to keep breathing.  Then one day he heads angrily off into the woods alone, which he's never done before, and meets a girl, Kit.

Kit becomes his new best friend, who leads him out of his protected life to seize the day and all the imaginative adventures it may bring.  Soon Caleb is skipping out of camp to follow Kit's lead, becoming part of her story of fairy magic.  Kit keeps him away from her own home, but gradually Caleb and the reader get glimpses and clues that make it pretty clear that all is not well.  In fact, Kit's home life is very bad indeed.  The book moves to a climax in which Caleb's deceptions are found out, and he tells his mother about Kit, and she is taken into foster care and out of Caleb's life.

Caleb is a normal 12 year old, trying to pull away from parental care, but the fact of his cystic fibrosis, and its dire consequence of a shortened lifespan (not to mention more mundane unpleasant issues), is unescapable.  His life is complicated further by his father's decision to leave his mother and start a new relationship, and his perfect older brother Patrick's ubiquitous perfection.  Caleb constantly is reminded by Patrick's existence of all the things he can never do, and the life Patrick will have that he won't.  It turns out that Patrick is carrying heavy weight of his own, trying to be perfect both to get attention for himself, and because he knows Caleb might die at a very young age, leaving Patrick to have to be a good enough son to fill two places. It's a horrible situation for everyone, but there it is, and inspired by Kit, Caleb has been really living each day (even though Bad Choices are made as part of that living).

Though there is this drama playing out in the book, this isn't a tear-jerking melodrama about a brave, sick kid being an inspiration.  Cystic fibrosis might confine Caleb, but it doesn't define him.  Nor, thank goodness, is it a Bridge To Terabithia knock off, though there are undeniable similarities.  No one dies at the end; instead everyone has become more honest with themselves and each other, setting up hope that though there's no magic cure in sight, there will be good times to come.

I remember back when I was a real middle grade reader being fascinated by stories that gave me windows into the lives of kids coping with sickness and disability.  The matter-of-factness with which the symptoms of cystic fibrosis are discussed and described, and lived by Caleb, make this a good one for young readers like I was--sickness isn't  romanticized, and the kid doesn't become more special because of it.  The reader is left with information, and with sympathy that's not a prurient voyeurism. This leaves room for the themes of friendship, and honesty, and adolescent desire for independence and love combined to flourish in a good story.

2 for 2 in my Kirki (plural of Kirkus?) comparisons this week--"A realistic story with strong, recognizable characters that doesn’t reduce cystic fibrosis to a tragedy." (here's the full review)

Dislaimer: review copy provided by the publisher

4 comments:

  1. I had a home/hospital student a couple years ago who had CF. It's a terrible illness. This sounds like one I should read, and that cover is very enticing. Thanks for the review.

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  2. Caleb and Kit sounds like a very touching story and sad in that Kit goes into foster care and out of his life. Glad to hear it doesn't have a Bridge to Terabithia ending though.

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  3. Oh this sounds really good! There should be so many more stories about kids with disabilities and chronic illnesses, and it's wonderful to see one that deals sensitively with it. Also: FRIENDSHIP.

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