review: Dear Mr. Henshaw

Last night I read Dear Mr. Henshaw in one sitting.

You may know that I’ve long been a big Cleary fan. I think Ramona is just so kungfu perfect.

But Mr. Henshaw is a very different sort of a book and I loved it, too. Man, I never realized that Cleary was dropping this sort of stuff back in 1983. You could put it alongside the freshest modern kid-lit and it would still shine.

 At first I was all “can she really tell a good story through these letters to a famous artist?”

Then in one of the early letters, you sense that the kid’s father isn’t around and you know there’s a story here. And it’s an amazing story. Tangled and grown up and nuanced, yet all poured out in a boy’s stream of con writing. A story that becomes extremely real through just the tiniest details: The kid needs a dad to show him how to rig up a lunchbox alarm, for instance.

But the big question with this sort of a novel is — will it all add up to something? Yes, it does! And it’s well worth it. 

I do regret that the finale of the book was illustrated, though. That was a moment that the reader needed to experience in his own mind, without a picture.


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