Hurricane Child by Kheryn Callender
Scholastic, March 2018
Reviewed from hardcover
Plot Summary: Caroline’s mother disappeared over a year ago, leaving Caroline with her father on Water Island, part of the US Virgin Islands—the part tourists don’t see because they don’t want to. Troubled by questions about her self-worth, Caroline is determined to find her mother and get an explanation for her abandonment. The arrival of new girl Kalinda to the Catholic school Caroline attends on St Thomas brings a welcome reprieve from the bullying of classmates and teachers. Caroline is intent on making Kalinda the first friend she’s ever had, only to succeed and discover that her feelings are also romantic. Caroline suspects that she and Kalinda share an ability to see things that no one else can, which might mean that Kalinda is just the person to help her find her mother.
Queer Rep: One of the most significant pieces of this book—and the thing that really made me fall for it—is Callender’s portrayal of first love. At age twelve, Caroline’s relationship with Kalinda unfolds with intensity: it’s earnest and naive, fierce and life changing. Caroline’s unrepentant conviction about her feelings is heartening, not to mention utterly fitting for a character who approaches everything with spirited determination.
The specifics of Caroline’s social context inform her experience with queer desire. She comes up against homomisia rooted in Catholicism. But queerness is nonetheless hers to embody; it doesn’t belong only to the white lesbian tourists from the mainland who the girls encounter in a gift shop (and, as Caroline’s mother’s past relationship with a woman makes clear, queerness has always existed in her community, no matter social attitudes toward it). Kalinda, already taught to believe that homosexuality is a sin, initially voices strong anti-gay views. So, it’s gratifying when she comes around, seemingly by the strength of her own feelings. The girls’ relationship ends not with condemnation or defeat, but with the pair pulled apart by circumstances beyond their control, a vast future ahead of them.
Other layers of queerness permeate the narrative, giving the book thematic unity and emotional weightiness. The cusp of adolescence figures as an in-between stage that makes obvious how arbitrary the rules regulating same-gender friendships are, as definitions of appropriate behavior begin to change from those of childhood. The presence of magic constantly calls into question what’s real, and Caroline’s supernatural abilities set her apart from those around her. These abilities contribute further to the outsider status she already endures as the result of prejudice against her darker skin. Caroline navigates her queerness in the context of this pervasive sense of difference, in a shifting reality that resists easy comprehension.
Final Word: Yes, please, give this book a Stonewall. It’s an impactful read with a strong sense of place and a memorable narrative voice. In the context of the award, there is nothing I’d love to see acknowledged more than the increase in middle grade about queer young people. If there’s a novel to represent that expansion of boundaries, it’s this beautifully written one about a black Caribbean girl discovering that she is deserving of love.