Crenshaw Summary & Study Guide

Katherine Applegate

Crenshaw

  • 63-page comprehensive study guide
  • Features 52 chapter summaries and 5 sections of expert analysis
  • Written by an English instructor with a PhD from NYU
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Crenshaw Summary & Study Guide

SuperSummary, a modern alternative to SparkNotes and CliffsNotes, offers high-quality study guides for challenging works of literature. This 63-page guide for “Crenshaw” by Katherine Applegate includes detailed chapter summaries and analysis covering 52 chapters, as well as several more in-depth sections of expert-written literary analysis. Featured content includes commentary on major characters, 25 important quotes, essay topics, and key themes like Truth/Fact Versus Story/Fantasy and The Impact of Poverty.

Plot Summary

Crenshaw is Katherine Applegate’s 2015 middle grade novel about Jackson, a young boy whose family is struggling with financial instability, and his imaginary friend, Crenshaw, a human-sized cat with a fondness for bubble baths and doing cartwheels. Narrated by Jackson in the first person, the story explores the impact of poverty on family and community, the need to reconcile fact and fancy, and how to face the unknown and unpreventable productively.

The novel is divided into three parts. Relevant quotes from Ruth Krauss’s A Hole is to Dig: A First Book of First Definitions, Jackson’s favorite childhood book, provide epigraphs for each part.

The epigraph for Part 1 reads, “A door is to open” (1, italics in original). It speaks to what Part 1 explores: the re-emergence of Crenshaw in Jackson’s life. Jackson has just completed fourth grade when he sees Crenshaw surfing at the beach. The sight troubles Jackson both because he has not seen Crenshaw since second grade and because he does not think of himself as “an imaginary friend kind of guy” (8). He hopes to be a scientist when he grows up and prefers facts over fancy, unlike his parents, who are musicians, and his sister, who loves stories. Her favorite is The House on East 88th Street, about a crocodile called Lyle who lives in a brownstone with a human family.

For Jackson, facts feel tangible and can be measured, while stories are lies, and he does not like being told lies. Jackson worries that he may be going crazy and that Crenshaw’s presence is a harbinger of trouble ahead. Crenshaw first came into Jackson’s life when his family was homeless, and Jackson has begun to notice familiar signs: piles of unpaid bills, arguments between his parents, and not enough food to eat.

Part 2 begins with the quote, “Mashed potatoes are to give everybody enough” and is comprised of Jackson’s recollections of being homeless (47). The displacement felt sudden to Jackson, who sees his parents working five part-time jobs between the two of them. He knew that his father had been diagnosed with multiple sclerosis and his mother was laid off from her job as a music teacher, but he was not aware of how dire their financial situation had become. One day, he was living in a house with a yard and swing set and the next in his family’s minivan with his parents; younger sister, Robin; and their dog, Aretha. His father, Tom, and mother, Sara, disagree about seeking aid from social services. Tom wants to be able to provide for his family himself, while Sara recognizes that they need assistance. After fourteen weeks, Tom and Sara save enough money to move into an apartment. Jackson and Robin are able to return to school, but the experience leaves Jackson anxious about instability and fearful of the unknown.

Part 3 opens with the epigraph, “The world is so you have something to stand on,” a reference to Jackson’s emotional growth and acceptance of life’s unknowns (143). In this section, Jackson’s family prepares to sell all non-essential possessions at a yard sale in an attempt to raise enough money to pay their back rent. Jackson understands that his family is on the cusp of homelessness again, but they do not discuss what is happening to them. His parents try to lighten the burden by making jokes and being positive, but their approach amplifies Jackson’s sense that he is being lied to. At the same time, he fears expressing how he really feels because he does not want to burden his family and finds himself using his parents’ avoidance and denial tactics when Robin worries that they will have to live in their minivan again.

What Jackson does not realize is that he and his parents both struggle to communicate openly with each other, each fearing hurting or burdening the other. Through Crenshaw, who urges Jackson to tell the truth, and Jackson’s friend, Marisol, who encourages him to embrace the unknown, Jackson is able to confront his parents and express what he needs: to be told the truth. His parents explain their plan to him. They admit that unpredictable obstacles may yet appear, and that if and when they do, they will keep fighting. At the end of the book, Jackson is reconciled to Crenshaw’s presence as a form of comfort. He understands his need for honesty while also acknowledging that a little bit of magic—whether music, love, or an imaginary friend—can lighten his burdens and anxiety.

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Chapters 1-7