We recently wrapped up our reading of Martine Leavitt’s Calvin: A Novel, a humorous but stirring young-adult romance-adventure centered on two high school seniors: Calvin, a cerebral and maladroit daydreamer prone to superimposing elements from Bill Watterson’s Calvin and Hobbes comic strip are over his own day-to-day existence, and Susie, his equally intelligent schoolmate and erstwhile frenemy who harbors secret ambitions of becoming an important author. With the abrupt onset of Calvin’s schizophrenia, numerous coincidences that have always seemed to connect him to Watterson’s Calvin take on revelatory significance and the voice of Hobbes, cartoon-Calvin’s impetuous but good-natured tiger pal, becomes the seventeen-year-old’s constant companion.
Susie has a ringside seat for the spectacular breakdown in their English class that lands Calvin in a mental health facility. She visits him there, ending a year-long estrangement, and Calvin takes her into his confidence, outlining a plan for ridding himself of Hobbes that entails a pilgrimage to Watterson’s hometown via an arduous trudge across a vast frozen lake. While Calvin never explicitly asks Susie to tag along, he cites parallels between their relationship and the Susie-Calvin dynamic in Calvin and Hobbes and implies that her participation in his foolhardy quest may be integral to its success. The story takes off when, rather than ratting him out to the hospital staff or to his parents, and fully aware that Calvin’s scheme is both utterly pointless and highly risky, Susie elects to accompany him.
Leavitt’s decision to afflict Calvin with the notion that he’s the Calvin from Calvin and Hobbes brought to life was a clever move. The enduring popularity of Watterson’s work ensures that many of Leavitt’s readers will have the Calvin and Hobbes mythos preloaded when they crack Calvin: A Novel open for the first time. The story’s lighthearted-banter-about-weighty-issues tone will be familiar to them and they’ll be primed to accept Calvin’s Hobbes delusion as, in itself, relatively benign — since, in Watterson’s comics, Hobbes was Calvin’s playmate and ally, always ready to lend him a sympathetic ear. Since Calvin and Hobbes seems less firmly entrenched in the collective psyche here in Hong Kong than in the United States and Canada, we equipped each of the students in our Advanced English Fun classes with a copy of Attack of the Deranged Mutant Killer Monster Snow Goons (one of Watterson’s collections) to complement their Calvin: A Novel paperback and assigned readings from both in tandem — e.g. in the same week that our students read the chapter in which Calvin and Susie encounter ice formations that eerily resemble snow goons, they read a strip in which Watterson’s Calvin creates and is subsequently terrorized by snow goons.