If you are a fan of middle-grade fiction, you have most likely heard of the book Wonder, by R.J. Palacio. Wonder deals with a child who has a cleft palate and his experiences when he goes to a real school for the first time rather than being home-schooled. He can’t hide his condition but he also won’t allow it to define him. There is a reason this book has received a great amount of praise. For similar reasons, the new book Caleb and Kit by Beth Vrabel (Running Press Books, Sept. 2017) is going to be a hit for the middle school crowd.
Caleb and Kit tells the story of 12 year old Caleb, who suffers from cystic fibrosis, a diagnosis meaning lungs that fill with mucus and a shortened lifespan. He feels completely overprotected by his mother and his “perfect” big brother. Even his closest friend, Derek, makes sure that he is included when the other kids play sports, but also makes sure that he doesn’t over-do it. Caleb is aware of his condition and knows how to take care of himself, but no one ever seems to let him. When summer break comes and he has to spend each day in a camp with mostly 8 and 9 year olds, he just can’t take it. To add insult to injury, his father has started a new life with a woman who seems oblivious to his condition.
Caleb’s life changes when he gets lost in the woods behind his house one day and meets Kit. Kit is like no one he has ever met. She is home schooled and seems to be free as a bird. Kit believes that she can talk to animals and fairies and doesn’t worry about what anyone thinks. Her mantra is “I do what I want,” a concept that especially appeals to Caleb who feels so trapped by those looking out for him. Kit’s fantasy world and the freedom Caleb feels when he is with her lure him to make some very unwise decisions, including some that risk his health. Early on the reader knows that there is more to Kit than meets the eye. She isn’t just a girl with a lot of freedom, she is a girl who isn’t being cared for and who is struggling simply to survive. It just takes Caleb a lot longer to figure this out.
I couldn’t put this book down. It was wonderfully written, honest, and had true to life middle grade voices. Caleb had moments of exceptionally bad behavior, but a) he’s 12 and b) he is fighting for his own voice and his life. Caleb had never really been given the ability to make his own decisions and figure out who he was. He also had quite a chip on his shoulder and found it difficult to comprehend what others might be thinking or feeling. Common enough for any tween, let alone one with CF. Caleb and Kit is a must read and one that I couldn’t stop thinking about.
***Note – I received a digital review copy from NetGalley in return for my honest review.