Thirteen-year-old Calvin Coolidge is about to learn the secrets of living life on the edge but first he gets sent into foster care with the Reverend and Mrs. Wells. The Reverend has his own ideas for how to rear this young child and Calvin embraces some of what he teaches him especially his love of the Bible. The Bible is what holds him together and lets you know that young Calvin has morals and ethics that others he is about to encounter do not.
One night when he least expected it a man called the OLD MAN took him from his home with the Reverend and his life on the lamb and crooked side began. This man is a first-rate con artist as you will witness when he takes advantage of a cashier, who might lose her job over five dollars. A man at Weston Union who gets taken in and a restaurant owner who takes a violin in place of cash for a meal when Darlene Fountain takes these two guys under control conning them into thinking she was lost, destitute and needed a ride to New York to become a big television star. Danger follows as she is swift at conning others, becomes part of his team but in several places she is cornered by those she owes money and things get dangerous for Calvin and the Old Man.
Darlene and Calvin bond until they learn that she is really a rich girl who ran away from home and now she must escape from the investigator that finally found her. Things get tension filled whenever she is around and The Old Man does something that leads you to believe he might not come back to pick up Calvin who he left with his sister, someone who reads Tarot cards. On his own he must fend for himself because she cannot be bothered. Added we now meet Joseph Stalin who is dead but insists that Calvin record and write is story to set the record straight within a given time.
Children need other children and Calvin is isolated to the point that even when he does attend school he is an outcast there and in his community. Living in a world created by his imagination all the people he interacts with are deceased. Boys need more than that and of course eventually he wonders what it would be like to be liked by a girl or even get his first kiss. Someone living close to him would love to help him out but is that possible? Calvin is at a serious disadvantage with a mother who is bipolar and missing, a father who is a con artist and his cousin Buck is the victim of experiments when take and kidnapped by aliens. Poor self-image, most people dislike him and yet there is something endearing about Calvin that you just want to hug him and show him he does have some good qualities.
Calvin living with his aunt finds himself all alone until something happens that changes it all. What would you do if Joseph Stalin’s ghost showed up in your aunt’s attic and you were tasked to write his story? Would you try and set the record straight? Author Marc Sercomb takes us inside the history and mind of Joseph Stalin as he relates his life as a dictator, his relationship with two other Russian leaders: Trotsky and Lenin. The research had to be extensive and you get to see another side of Stalin. Then things change for Calvin as we learn more about his aunt, her reasons for not paying much attention to him and then he decides to register himself for school. Calvin Coolidge Junior High is great, and he meets other students, but he also begins to see other deceased people. He gets to talk with two of the greatest Russian authors whose works everyone should read: Dostoevsky and Tolstoy who discuss their passions for writing, their literary styles and I agree more conflict makes the story more interesting. But things don’ t go exactly as planned yet Miss Underwood his English teacher realizes that he is exemptional and one test proves he’s a savant. Calvin loves learning and explores history and his writing, his dreams and his thoughts are inspirational, and you would think an adult wrote them.
Unfortunately, the counselors and psychologists realize that he is talking to himself or thinks he is and begin to wonder if he needs to be in a different setting. His cousin Buck shows up and they bond to a point, but he suffers from PTSD and returned from Korea with promises from the army that were broken. The library in the school was great but Mr. Stone the psychologist wanted to meet with him and here is where things take on a different turn. Explaining to him about his aunt, the environment where he lives and then telling him the truth about speaking to the dead. He decides to call in the state child welfare official, Mrs. Ardmore and the decision to remove him from his home and sent to a new facility and school more like him changes the course of his life forever.
The staff places him with several others and Calvin must fend for himself. Meeting some of the other kids provides challenges for him but hearing voices and being too honest will place him in a difficult light with those in charge. Meeting Sigmund Freud was probably the best person to meet even though he is not alive. Calvin met Penelope and Kate and was torn between them both and how Freud explains it to him is insightful on the part of Freud and the author. Many conversations are quite interesting and young people can learn a lot from how Freud explains relationships with girls, talks about his own and helps Calvin focus on what really matters. His writing is his prime strength and the fact that he continued to draft his book places him in an exciting position when Miss Underwood reads his chapters and does something you will not expect. But, when one of the doctors wants to do a more aggressive treatment on Calvin and adds more pills, his cousin Buck comes to the rescue, breaks him out and along with the two girls, they are on the run for a long time. Even when someone finds them they take aim at the person and what they do to stop him in his tracks is priceless.
Running from the law, the police, the FBI and a detective plus and investigator takes its toll after a while. Then he meets Mr. Bannon a reporter and the entire story becomes known and you will not believe what happens next as Calvin’s life is about to take a huge U turn but in what direction? Many people including Miss Underwood come to his defense. Buck is in serious trouble, but will they put him in jail for what he did to save Calvin from what the facility had in mind? Many important people come to his defense. Calvin’s writing puts him in the spotlight and some endings you will not believe. Does his father ever come back? Where will he wind up? What about the girls who are wanted to just escape an abusive father? Lives change and this ending lets readers wondering what will happen to Calvin and does the author have more in store for him so that we can learn how he develops later?
A story so well crafted, the research extensive and bringing so many people back to life helped Calvin understand himself, realize his potential and understand that he is just so special. Young people can learn a lot from Calvin and hopefully they too will strive to read more, want to learn and take chances that will benefit them in life. Living in Cleveland with the Ghost of Joseph Stalin: Would you like to experience that too like Calvin?
Fran Lewis: Just reviews
I’m not into YA books, but add Stalin, Trotsky and Lenin and you got me hooked. I’ll check it out!