On lingering

I finished Kheryn Callender’s Hurricane Child last week, and it’s still with me, haunting me with fragments of the protagonist’s deep thoughts and heart-wrenching emotions. It’s a beautiful book about a lonely twelve-year old girl, who struggles on too many fronts. She’s bullied in her Catholic school. Her mom left her and her father, and they stopped hearing from her altogether after a few international postcards with unsatisfactory messages. Her father loves her, but doesn’t really know how to help her or even interact with her. She also sees ghosts and spirits that general wisdom says are bad omens.


Caroline decides her life’s mission is to look for her mom, so she starts gathering clues. So the book reads a little bit like a mystery in which the stakes are emotional. When a new girl, who’s just moved to St. Thomas from Barbados, joins Caroline’s class and stands up to the bully, Caroline finds herself entranced with her, and hoping to finally make a friend. Kalinda is outspoken and kind, and she follows her own drumbeat in spite of the bully’s attempts at making her part of the domineering posse.

Caroline and Kalinda become such good friends, they’re given a combined moniker, Carolinda. When Kalinda agrees to help Caroline find her mother, it becomes a dream come true, because

“Kalinda. Kalinda. Kalinda. It’s like a song stuck in my head. I can’t think of anything else. She competes for my thoughts. Sometimes she wins. Kalinda Francis. Kalinda Francis. Kalinda Francis.” (100)

They do find Caroline’s mother, after a series of adventures and mishaps that prove the object of the mystery was a different one all along. The search was not for the mother’s whereabouts or her fate, but rather for Caroline’s own identity.

Callender does not skirt the hard truths in this book: what it’s like to be marginalized for being different, how complicated and ultimately unknowable people’s lives are, even when they’re close to you, what a fine and frayed line there is good and bad, and how it shifts depending on your perspective. They do this delicate dance with impeccable style and craft, and most of all, with empathy. Kindness is what sets some characters apart from the others when they’re all, as we are, flawed humans. The fact we understand their motivations without knowing more than a couple of lines about some is one of the many reasons I’m still thinking of this book three days—and several hundred pages of other books—afterwards.

Hurricane Child has left me with book hangover in a bad way. Except that it’s not bad at all, and it’s nothing like a hangover. I was looking for a better metaphor but the reality is that language is shorthand and when I say book hangover, a lot of people will get it.

Hangover is the wrong word for this prolonged lingering, just as the spirits Caroline sees when other people don’t are not simply evil. The beauty is in nuance and complexity that take days and longer to unravel and still remains whole for others to discover.

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