Kheryn Callender. Hurricane Child. New York: Scholastic, 2018.
Rating: 3.75 out of 5 running girls who burst into a cloud of moths.
As summer dies down, I’m going to give you a preview of Halloween Month, with a book about a girl who can see spirits. Caroline Murphy is a Hurricane Child, born during the terrible storm that swept through the U.S. Virgin Islands twelve years ago. Maybe that’s why she can see the things no one else can. There’s an old woman dressed all in black, who watches Caroline sometimes. There’s a white woman wearing a nightgown, who stands in the school cafeteria. There are other people Caroline sees, whom no one else seems to notice. And maybe these spirits know what happened to Caroline’s mother. She just has to figure out a way to ask them.
But in the meantime, she’s distracted by her feelings toward the new girl in school, Kalinda Francis. Kalinda, who talks back to the class bully, yet doesn’t mind sitting with her at lunch. Kalinda, who has a special smile for everyone. Kalinda, who may be the only other person to see the things Caroline sees.
Things I loved:
- The spooky spirits, of course. So, why didn’t I tag this post “fantasy”? Well, unfortunately…more on that in the next section.
- Caroline’s strong-willed personality. She does have insecurities, and they do sometimes get the better of her, but ultimately she has enough of a sense of self-worth to not let anyone — especially not her racist teacher — push her around. I love this exchange between Caroline and Missus Wilhelmina:
“You think this is a joke?” Missus Wilhelmina asks.
“Yes,” I say.
The kids at the door gasp too loudly. Missus Wilhelmina whips around and sees them there. They scramble away. She turns back to me.
“You don’t want to go to this school anymore,” she says, “that’s what it is. You want to be kicked out of this school.”
I agree. “I do.”
“You think you’re smart,” she says, her hand raised again, but I duck.
“Smarter than you,” I say…
She also ultimately doesn’t let her neighbors’ attitudes toward homosexuality bring her down. When someone tries to use the Bible to condemn same-sex relationships, she has an answer ready for that, too.
“You’re a Christian, aren’t you? Don’t you believe in God?”
“White people once used the Bible to say that we should be slaves.”
“What does that have anything to do with this?”
“Everything,” I tell her. “It means we should think for ourselves. Decide if something is wrong just because someone says it’s so, or decide it’s right because that’s how we feel.”
- Finally, I loved the use of the Nina Simone song, “Blackbird,” throughout the story to show Caroline’s feelings at each stage of the plot, and to give us a better sense of who her mother was.
Things I didn’t love
VAGUE SPOILERS AHEAD. I don’t give away any specific plot points or revelations, but even my vague points might be enough to spoil the story for some readers. If you’re one of those readers, maybe just read the main points in bold text, and move on to the final section.
- The incredibly disappointing payoff re: the spirits. This plot thread was built up to be something so spooky and important, and then it was just dropped, and I was left thinking, What was the point of all that? It’s like the author changed their mind about the kind of story they were telling, but forgot to change the earlier parts to match the tone at the end.
- The portrayal of people with severe depression as selfish and irresponsible. I get that this story is told from a twelve-year-old’s point of view, a twelve-year-old who hasn’t had enough experiences to help her fully understand what depression does to people, but her p.o.v. should have been countered much better by someone who did understand, and who could have explained things to Caroline. There is a bit of that, which is why I didn’t take such a big bite out of my rating, but it didn’t feel like enough.
It’s at least a sweet first crush story that I believe anyone will be able to relate to, with awesome messages about thinking for yourself and deciding what you believe despite what you’ve been told. And even though the payoff was such a letdown, the spirits were pretty awesome. I would recommend this book for anyone who loves stories that are a little spooky, but not too spooky, and stories of young love.
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