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Calvin: A Novel

Calvin: A Novel

by Martine Leavitt


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Just because you see something doesn't mean it's really there.

Seventeen-year-old Calvin has always known his fate is linked to the comic book character from Calvin & Hobbes.

He was born on the day the last strip was published. His grandpa put a stuffed tiger named Hobbes in his crib. And he even had a best friend named Susie.

Then Calvin’s mom washed Hobbes to death. Susie grew up beautiful and stopped talking to him. And Calvin pretty much forgot about the strip—until now.

Now he is seventeen years old and has been diagnosed with schizophrenia. Hobbes is back, as a delusion, and Calvin can’t control him. Calvin decides that cartoonist Bill Watterson is the key to everything—if he would just make one more comic strip, but without Hobbes, Calvin would be cured.

Calvin and Susie (is she real?) and Hobbes (he can’t be real, can he?) set out on a dangerous trek across frozen Lake Erie to track down Watterson.

Calvin by Martine Leavitt is a stirring YA novel that's not just a story about one boy's struggle with schizophrenia, but a coming of age story, a love story, and one unforgettable adventure. Martine Leavitt is the author of Keturah and Lord Death, a National Book Award Finalist, My Book of Life by Angel, which garnered five starred reviews and was a Los Angeles Times Book Prize finalist, and Heck Superhero, a finalist for the Governor General's Award.

Praise for Calvin:

“The novel has a fresh, funny voice that never diminishes the seriousness of schizophrenia. Leavitt delivers an imaginative exploration of mental illness, examining what’s real and what’s true in this magical world.” —Booklist, starred review

"Written as a letter to Watterson (to fulfill a make-up English assignment), the first-person narrative eschews quotation marks and dialogue tags, further blurring the lines between real life and what’s in Calvin’s head. . . .Memorable." —Horn Book, starred review

"Equal parts coming-of-age tale, survival adventure, and love story, this outstanding novel also sensitively deals with an uncommon but very real teen issue, making it far more than the sum of its parts. " —Kirkus Reviews, starred review

"Funny, intellectual, and entertaining, it’s a sensitive yet irreverent adventure about a serious subject." —Publishers Weekly

"Sweet, romantic, and funny." —School Library Journal

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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781250104250
Publisher: Square Fish
Publication date: 03/21/2017
Edition description: Reprint
Pages: 192
Sales rank: 201,536
Product dimensions: 5.54(w) x 8.18(h) x 0.53(d)
Age Range: 12 - 18 Years

About the Author

Martine Leavitt has written several award-winning novels for young adults, including My Book of Life by Angel,which garnered five starred reviews and was a Los Angeles Times Book Prize finalist; Keturah and Lord Death, a finalist for the National Book Award; and Heck Superhero, a finalist for the Governor General's Award. She lives in Alberta, Canada.

Read an Excerpt


A Novel

By Martine Leavitt

Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Copyright © 2015 Martine Leavitt
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-0-374-38073-1


Dear Bill,

This is Calvin again. I hope it's okay if I call you Bill. Meaning no disrespect at all, but Bill is easier to type than Mr. Watterson and this is going to be a long letter.

I am writing this letter for two reasons. One is because it has to be my English project, which is worth 50 percent of my final grade. My teacher gave me the idea but said it better be a long letter if it's going to be worth 50 percent.

So where do I start? They say a person my age knows maybe thirty thousand words, so picking the first word out of thirty thousand is the hardest part. After you pick the first word, it weirdly picks the next one, and that one picks the one after that, and next thing you know you're not in control at all — the pen is as big as a telephone pole and you're just hanging on for dear life —

Sometimes I riff like that. Sorry.

Everything I'm going to say in this letter is true with some real stuff thrown in. You may wonder how you can believe that, coming from a recently diagnosed schizo kid, but I've figured out there's a difference between the meaning of the word real and the meaning of the word true. Reality is all the stuff that won't go away, like school and gravity, no matter how much you wish it would. It's the ceiling your imagination bumps up against. People with my condition just keep floating on up as if there weren't any ceiling, with every so often a few hard falls and then more floating.

But true doesn't float. It just is.

So this is how it started, Bill: I got sick.


It was Thursday night and that meant the next day was Friday, the day my English and biology projects were due. The English project was worth 50 percent of my final grade, and the science project was worth 40 percent.

I'd done a little research for biology.

I hadn't even started the English project.

Some people destroy their lives with addictive substances. I had just destroyed mine by procrastination. It was the end of January and the end of the first semester of my senior year. My parents were so proud of me because my grades were decent enough that they were sure I was headed to a good university to study neuroscience. Instead I was about to flunk English and biology, which would be black marks on my transcript forever, keeping me out of college and following me around like a virtual dunce cap for the rest of my life.

I was lying in bed thinking about this when the room started swelling and shrinking. I could feel it swelling and shrinking, and I was huge and small right along with my room, like I was Alice in Wonderland, like my body was a balloon and somebody was blowing me up and deflating me over and over again.

I was like, what the heck.

And then I heard a voice.

Hobbes: It's me.

I knew it was Hobbes. I knew right away it was him even though I couldn't see him.

Hobbes: It's me, Hobbes.

So, Bill, you know how when Calvin comes home from school every day and Hobbes knocks him off his feet at the door and his shoes go flying and stars and dust fly and moons and planets circle his head? That's how I felt when Hobbes started talking to me. In a voice I could hear. Knocked off my feet, shoes flying, little ringed planets over my head.

It had never been like that when I was a kid. When I was a kid, I decided what my Hobbes doll said. Sometimes I surprised myself by what I made him say, so it turned out almost like a real conversation between Calvin-me and Hobbes-me. Sometimes I forgot they were both me.

But this was different. This was a full-on voice that didn't seem to have anything to do with me.

I didn't answer him at first. I wasn't crazy: I knew he wasn't there. But he was. I could feel him, hear him breathing somewhere in my room.

Hobbes: I'm here. You just can't see me. Yet.

And, Bill, you know how when Calvin was mad or scared and his face would turn into this big black hole with a pink tongue in the middle? That's how I felt when Hobbes kept talking to me. So I just lay there in bed with my black-hole head and my pink tongue in the middle of it for a long time.

Then it went like this:

Me (whispering): I'm too old for an imaginary friend.

Hobbes: I'm not imaginary.

Me: Yes, you are.

Hobbes: I'm real.

Me: No.

Hobbes: Okay. I'm true.

Me: Imaginary.

Hobbes: Okay. If I'm your imagination, make me say something.

Me: Say, tigers are doofuses.

I concentrated, trying to make him say it, but he didn't.

Hobbes: Nice try. You know my loyalty to cat-kind.

Me: Say it! This is my mind, and you are a product of my imagination, and if I tell you to say tigers are doofuses then you have to say it.


Me: Say it!

Hobbes: Humans are doofuses.

Me: I'm telling Mom.

Hobbes: What are you going to tell her? That at age seventeen you have a man-eating tiger for an imaginary friend?

Me: Yes! Mo-om!

Hobbes: And you know what she's going to do? Take you to the doctor.

Me: Yeah. As she should.

Hobbes: And you know what the doctors are going to do to you?


Hobbes: Yes. Exactly.

Me: You were never real. I invented you, I can un-invent you.

Hobbes: Bill invented me.

Me: Okay, but I'm the one hearing you. I can stop hearing you.

Hobbes: Can you?

Me: Yeah. I can.

Hobbes: Try.


Hobbes: Are you trying?


Hobbes: I'm still here. You can ignore me all you want, it won't make me go away.

Me: You're just — you were just a toy —

Hobbes: That was then. You still trying?

Me: I'll keep on trying until you go away.

Hobbes: If you have to try to make something in your imagination go away, that means you are acknowledging it exists even as you are trying to pretend it doesn't. As soon as you wonder if you've made me go away, you're thinking about me again, and there I am. Whenever you think of me to wonder if I'm gone, I'm there, I'm here.

Just then Mom opened the door.

Mom: Calvin, did you call me?

Me: Yes — no — I must have been dreaming ... Sorry.

Mom: Okay. Good night, son.

Me: Do you see Hobbes in here, Mom?

Mom: You are dreaming. We lost Hobbes a long time ago.

Hobbes: Lost is a euphemism. She washed me to death.

Mom: You okay, honey?

Me: Yeah.

Mom: Anything you want to talk about?

Me: No. Thanks, Mom. I'm going back to sleep now.

She shut the door.

Hobbes: You always were a smart kid.


When I was nine or so, Mom washed Hobbes to death. She threw him into the washing machine with a few towels like she'd done lots of times before, but this time he busted up in there. When the wash was over, the towels were gummed up with tiger guts and tiger fur. Mom slowly pulled the mess out and into a basket, saying they were old towels anyway and maybe she'd just chuck the whole thing into the garbage and sorry, Calvin, I guess he just wore out.

Before Hobbes died I was one way, and after, I was different.

Before Hobbes died I wanted to win the Change the World Lottery. I wanted to be that person who does one thing that makes the world better. The world only spits up one of them every hundred years or so, and the odds were six billion to one that I'd win. Einstein won it with the theory of relativity, but given the lower population of the world, the odds when he was alive were slightly higher.

Before Hobbes died, I thought I could win that lottery. After Hobbes died, I started to see how dumb that was. I realized you have to be a freak of nature to win that lottery, I mean to really win. I wondered if it was worth it. Freakdom is a high price to pay for a ticket. I also began to wonder why I wanted to Change the World in the first place. Fame? Money? Was that any reason to want to Change the World?

Before Hobbes died, a cardboard box could be a time travel machine or a transmogrifier. After, it was just a cardboard box.

I noticed other things, too. After Hobbes died, I got scared of careening down steep hills in my wagon and on my sled. After Hobbes died, I wasn't scared of the monsters under the bed anymore. I started to be afraid of climate change and nuclear bombs and all the things I heard on the news that didn't go shrinking away when you turned on the light or your mom walked into the room.

Now I was seventeen and a tiger was talking to me and I wasn't scared of the monsters under the bed. I was scared of the monster in the bed, which was me.

* * *

It took a while, but somehow I fell asleep that night.

The next morning I stepped out of bed and fell to my death and found out why people scream on their way down.

Then I woke up for real and put my feet on the floor and fell to my death and found out that even when you've done it before you still scream on the way down.

Mom yelled through the door.

Mom: Calvin, what's going on? I called you three times. Hurry, you're going to be late!

So I got out of bed and I could see atoms. No, for real. I could see all the atoms that make up the world, and when I stood on the floor it was like a trillion billion ball bearings were under my feet.

I showered and felt hydrogen and oxygen hitting in alternate streams of molecules and when I sat down to shovel in scrambled eggs I could almost hear the baby chicken atoms saying don't eat me, but I ate them anyway and left for the bus.

Waiting with me at the bus stop in the rain, just out of my line of vision, was my buddy the man-eating tiger, Hobbes.

It was freaky in one way to have Hobbes there, but in another way it wasn't horrible. Since my only friend, Susie, had made new friends, I hadn't had anyone to hang out with for a long time. Now I had somebody to talk to, even if it was an imaginary tiger.

Hobbes started talking again clear as could be.

Hobbes: Lemme tell you what it was like to be washed to death. First you get a hole in you, and your guts start stretching out of you, and the hole gets bigger and the guts get longer, and soon you're swirling in soapy water and your own guts and fur, and you turn inside out, and your eyeballs sink to the bottom of the washing machine, each eyeball all alone, and you can't even see your other eyeball. And that's it until your best friend is laughing at your lonely eyeballs.

Me: It did look kind of funny.

It had, but I'd still been pretty choked up about it at the time.

Hobbes: I think you should make it up to me. Skip school. Let's play!

Me: Go away.

Hobbes: C'mon, buddy. We had good times. We will again. All the sled rides and the snowmen and the snowball fights and the forts.

Me: Remember I broke my arm and my leg last time we went sledding?

Hobbes: Remember all the adventures?

Me: All the fights.

Hobbes: All the exploring and climbing trees?

Me: All the trouble we got into.

Hobbes: Let's run away.

Me: People will think I'm insane because you talk to me.

Hobbes: Since when did we care what people think?

Me: There's more of them. The definition of sanity is a democratic thing. They get to decide.

Hobbes: We'll have our own reality.

Me: You can't have a reality all by yourself.

Hobbes: Why not?

Me: Because ... because it's like playing Calvinball. If you make up the rules as you go, nobody else gets it, nobody else can play with you, you never know when the game is over or if you won ... It's sort of pointless. And lonely.

Hobbes: You gave up on trying to win the Change the World Lottery.

Me: I could never win.

Hobbes: You should never give up on that.

Me: It's too hard. Besides, now I have to figure out how to deal with my problem.

Hobbes: What problem?

Me: You. You are my problem.

Hobbes: Your imagination is a transmogrifier.

Me: The transmogrifier was just a cardboard box. I want you to leave me alone. Go away.

Hobbes: No.

Me: I made you up. I can make you go away.

But he didn't go away, Bill. He stayed.


School's always been pretty bad. Mom said they were going to keep me back at the end of first grade, but when they tested me they found out I was in the ninety-sixth percentile for intelligence and they figured I was just bored. Dad gave me lectures explaining how all the brains in the world wouldn't do me any good if I didn't know how to work. But as it turns out, all the lectures in the world don't make things any less boring, and they don't make you work harder either. So I aced classes where all I had to do was show up and take tests. I didn't do as well in classes that required projects.

It always bugged me that I went to school but I didn't seem to learn anything really useful. Like birds. I saw the same kinds of birds every day and there I was in my last year of high school and I didn't know what kinds they were. Except robins. Shouldn't there be a class called Basic Birds? What about flowers? Shouldn't there be a course called Common Flowers You Will See in Your Typical Day? And what about stuff like how the financial world works? How about How to Get into the Stock Market Without Losing Your Shirt, or even What That Information Sheet They Give You When You Open a Bank Account Means. I had to read Lord of the Flies in English class just to learn that all teenagers are animals at heart and thank you civilization for keeping us from ripping each other's throats out. But Lord of the Flies was written in 1954 — haven't they written any good books since then? Maybe we would evolve if the curriculum did. How about a course called Marriage 101 or Mortgages 101 or Parenting 101? Some of the biggest things in your life and you don't get taught how to do them. But hey, I know the molecular difference between an acid and a base. I've got nothing against knowing the molecular difference between an acid and a base, but how about something practical once in a while? I just want to look around in the world and not be totally baffled by it, even as I recite the periodic table, you know?

So yeah, Bill, I've always had a problem with school.

All morning Hobbes followed me around in the hallways and in my classes, never in full view, always just behind me and to my right. Sometimes I caught a glimpse of the end of his tail. All morning I thought

the English project

the biology project


the English project

the biology project


They were like mantras in my head.

They were like canker sores in my mouth.

They were like little rocks in my shoes.

I thought, I should go home. No, I can't go home. I should run away.

Hobbes: Hard to win the Change the World Lottery if you're a high school dropout.

Me: Or if you talk to imaginary tigers.

My parents didn't know that I was about to become the first ninety-sixth percentile to flunk. My dad had told me over and over again to do well in school so I wouldn't have to grow up to be a ditchdigger, and now that I was about to resign myself to a lifetime of ditchdigging, I realized I had never seen a ditchdigger anywhere ever and probably they had machines for that.

Hobbes: There's always McDonald's. I wonder if you worked there for, say, twenty years, you could afford to move out of your parents' house. I wonder if a guy whose great ambition is to be promoted from french fries to hamburgers could get a girlfriend.

* * *

On a day like this, of course, I couldn't get lucky enough to avoid Maurice.

Maurice: What do I have for lunch today, Timbit?

Hobbes growled.

Maurice grabbed my lunch bag and reached his huge hand into it. He threw the apple at me.

Maurice: You can have that.

He looked at me like he hated me for letting him get away with this every time he forgot his lunch, which was a lot.

Hobbes: Can I eat him?

Maurice: You're looking skinny, man. Tell your mom you need a bigger lunch.

He unwrapped my sandwich.

Hobbes: Not much to him.

Me: Eat him anyway.

Maurice leaned into me, slamming me against my locker.


Excerpted from Calvin by Martine Leavitt. Copyright © 2015 Martine Leavitt. Excerpted by permission of Farrar, Straus and Giroux.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents


Title Page,
Copyright Notice,
Dear Bill,
It was Thursday night,
It's true that,
School's always been,
Calvin's Alter Ego,
The next morning,
I was thinking,
I got dressed,
While we ate,
We weren't making,
You know how,
It was getting darker,
Susie and I both looked,
We woke up early,
We walked for a long time,
It was half past four,
I tried to be cheerful,
When I woke up in the morning,
Susie gave me,
We walked,
We weren't freezing,
The snow had blown,
First her hands,
Susie was lying,
Another vein of black water,
That's the way,
Susie made me go,
About the Author,
Also by Martine Leavitt,

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