Book Review: Dear Mr. Henshaw by Beverly Cleary

Dear Mr. Henshaw
Beverly Cleary


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Beverly Cleary’s timeless Newbery Medal-winning book explores difficult topics like divorce, insecurity, and bullying through the thoughts and emotions of a sixth-grade boy as he writes to his favorite author, Boyd Henshaw.

After his parents separate, Leigh Botts moves to a new town with his mother. Struggling to make friends and deal with his anger toward his absent father, Leigh loses himself in a class assignment in which he must write to his favorite author. When Mr. Henshaw responds, the two form an unexpected friendship that will change Leigh’s life forever.

From the beloved author of the Henry Huggins, Ramona Quimby, and Ralph S. Mouse series comes an epistolary novel about how to navigate and heal from life’s growing pains.

This is another book that I randomly picked up, I believe from Half Price Books or at a local bag sale for the friends of the local library sale. Either way, I know I did not pay very much for it. I have always wanted to read something by Beverly Cleary. I thought I would start with her “Mouse and the Motorcycle” series, but somehow I started with this one. As I started into the book, I could tell that this was not going to be a light fluff read, which I had assumed most of Cleary’s works were. This book deals with some deep issues, such as divorce, from a child’s perspective. I really thought the portrayal of Leigh Botts was honest and accurate. Coming from a family that was divorced, I know that many of these feelings are accurate, regardless of your age and when your parents divorced. There is a moment where you consider if it was your fault or what happened to cause the split. This book deals masterfully with this element, but it also makes it feel more depressing and sad than I was expecting, like I said.

The mother character was written in such a manner that I had a lot of sympathy for her, even if there were moments that Leigh really seemed to be downing on her. From an adult perspective I could understand the reasoning behind certain actions she takes and also some of the conversations she ends up having with Leigh and the father at different points of the story. The father was a character that I understood all too well. The one that isn’t around. The one that only calls when it is convenient and then you feel that you are bothering them when you actually do get to talk to them. Cleary captured that emotion that a child goes through beautifully during a scene where Leigh calls his dad *SPOILER* because he is emotional and hears another little boy at his house. It was gut-wrenching. There is a part of the story where I got so upset that I put the book down, which is strange in a children’s book to say that I had to do, but the father does something that I truly felt was despicable. Though it does resolve in amicably in the end, in that moment I wanted to throttle his heartless father.

This book really is about growing up, surviving divorce, making new friends, and just the journey of a mother and child that are in a small cabin due to financial issues. It is a remarkable work and one that is so truthful it hurts. Throughout the book I felt a melancholic feeling that I have not felt. The thing that I am taking away from this book is that I actually had an emotional reaction while reading it. There were twinges, there was sadness, there was happiness. So many emotions shot through me while reading it. This is what I enjoy about reading. It can cause these striking emotions that we are not expecting from a simplistic read. The written word is so great and I am so glad that I read this work by Cleary.

Dear Mr. Henshaw is a part of a duology! I read the other book “Strider” recently and it will be reviewed later this week as well!

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