Friday, February 3, 2023

Hurricane Child by Kacen Callender


When I saw that HURRICANE CHILD was on sale for an incredibly affordable seventy-five cents in the Kindle store, I was all over that like white on rice. Especially since it's written by Kacen Callender, one of my favorite YA authors. They always write about dark and serious issues, but they do it with heart and nuance, so I never feel like I'm being lectured at or pandered to: they allow the characters to tell their own stories simply by dint of being themselves.

HURRICANE CHILD is the story of a young girl named Caroline, who lives on Water Island, one of the Virgin Islands, a mere boat away from Saint Thomas (which I believe is where the author comes from). She was born during a hurricane, which according to island superstition means a lifetime of bad luck and no happiness. Right now, for her, it feels like it's true. Her mother disappeared when she was young, she's bullied at school for being willful and having dark skin by students and faculty alike, and she's filled with an anger that seems to come from feeling very, very depressed.

That changes when they get a new girl on the island from Barbados. Like Caroline, she has dark skin and natural hair, but Kalinda also has a confidence and a charisma that Caroline does not, and when she shuts down a first attempt to bully her by the Queen Bee herself, she ends up skyrocketing in popularity. Caroline is fascinated by Kalinda and wants to be her friend, but she also feels more than that, too. It's a sort of fascination that moves beyond jealousy or obsession, into the sort of desires that can make you want someone to be a part of your life forever. The bond between the two girls shifts and changes as they take each other into their confidence and Kalinda becomes involved in the mystery of Caroline's disappearance, but honesty, like mystery, can sometimes open doors through which there is no turning back, no matter how much you regret what you find on the other side.

So I loved this book. The magic realism element is way more underplayed than I was expecting but I think it worked for the story. It actually makes me sad how many people were criticizing the heroine for being selfish and unlikable. Caroline actually reminded me a lot of the heroine in I AM NOT YOUR PERFECT MEXICAN DAUGHTER, which shows how depression can manifest itself differently in different cultures, often taking the form of anger in places where it might not be acceptable to publicly show weakness or emotion. I felt like that was the case here. Caroline had a lot of emotional trauma and seemed to be sublimating it into anger, since that was a more acceptable and comfortable emotion for her to feel. I know some readers through this was too dark for MG but I honestly don't think it is, for the right readers. It captures the pure and innocent first crush from a LGBT+ perspective, just like how ANNIE ON MY MIND did, and it's not explicit. It's just sweet and bittersweet and kind of sad.

I also think that, like HOUSE ON MANGO STREET, the magical realism and fairytale like elements of the story allow the author to be vague about the darker subject matter. They do a really good job leaning back at the right times, and only giving enough information for what the story requires. I think HURRICANE CHILD was Kacen Callender's debut novel but it's just as good as their later works.

P.S. Since this was a debut, some copies have the author's dead name on the cover. Make sure you don't use it when talking about the work. The author goes by Kacen now and uses they/them pronouns.

4.5 out of 5 stars

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