Title: Hurricane Child
Author: Kheryn Callender
Publisher: Scholastic Press, 2018
Themes: black, lgbtqia+, Caribbean, internalized homophobia, depression, micro-agressions, racism, disappearing parent, self-esteem, cultural identity, spirits, coming-of-age
My ma’s voice is rough and low. When she speaks to strangers on the telephone, they call her “Sir.” I guess it must be surprising to some people, the way her voice sounds, because she’s so beautiful—just about the prettiest woman you’ve ever seen. I love the way her rough voice vibrates on the air like the beat of a drum. She sings around the house. Under her breath, since people say her voice is so ugly all the time.
Twelve-year-old Caroline is a Hurricane Child, born on Water Island during a storm. Coming into this world during a hurricane is unlucky, and Caroline has had her share of bad luck already. She’s hated by everyone in her small school, she can see things that no one else can see, and — worst of all — her mother left home one day and never came back. With no friends and days filled with heartache, Caroline is determined to find her mother. When a new student, Kalinda, arrives, Caroline’s luck begins to turn around. Kalinda, a solemn girl from Barbados with a special smile for everyone, seems to see the things Caroline sees, too. Joined by their common gift, Kalinda agrees to help Caroline look for her mother, starting with a mysterious lady dressed in black. Soon, they discover the healing power of a close friendship between girls. (GR)
Why I like this book:
Vivid, lyrical haunting prose will transport you to the fears and flavors of the Caribbean from page one. Amidst the sensory details of the setting, Callender weaves so many layers and manages to give a minutiae of cultural details with so many universal childhood feelings, making this a story that will touch a wide audience. Some reviewers have categorized the novel as magical realism, my sense is that the belief in spirits is just part of the island culture’s world view.
There are many threads in the story, which would require a certain reading skill, but are completely within reach of a strong 5th grade reader. This is a story of family, loss, bullying, first love, etc., and all the pain and joy those things inevitably bring to any child.
Kalinda’s internalized homophobia, rooted in the Catholicism practiced on the islands, felt incredibly authentic and moving. The first (queer) love is not the main plot line, but is a very important age-appropriate secondary thread, which I loved. How cool to read an #ownvoices middle-grade book about a black girl falling for another girl and the journey towards acknowledging this to herself and her love interest.
Callender has written Hurricane Child in first person POV and there’s a lot of internal dialogue for a middle grade novel, with correspondingly a little less action, but this is in perfect harmony with our protagonist, Caroline and her journey not only to find the mother who has abandoned her, but also to reconnect with the parts of herself she is in danger of abandoning, Caroline is brave, strong, and independent, and her new friend, Kalinda’s patience and understanding are exactly what Caroline needs facing deeply flawed, yet loving parenting. The author hits the middle grade sweet spot perfectly.
This is Callender’s debut and they are an author whose career I shall be following.
“This is what hurts the most. Silencing myself when I’ve fought so hard to be heard.”