Study Guide

Calogero in Alligator Bayou

By Donna Jo Napoli


Sweet Heart

How could anyone hate Calogero? He's kind, he's generous, he's thoughtful, and he generally tries to do the right thing. Plus he's just a kid still, at the ripe old age of fourteen, so even though he messes up sometimes, Calo really does mean well, and he tries his best to make up for his mistakes. For instance, after Calo and Cirone sneak out to go alligator hunting and are finally home safe in bed, Calo says:

Somehow he's asleep. That's good, at least. We're lucky we can use our uncles as an excuse never to 'gator hunt again. I close my hands around Cirone's ankles. I'm the older one. "I'm sorry, Cirone," I whisper. (10.80)

While there's a clear apology included in this passage, we get some subtler clues to Calo's character here too. He and Cirone are only one year apart, and though Calo is older, Cirone is the stronger-willed, riskier one who decided they'd go on the hunt in the first place. And yet Calo feels responsible for his cousin's injury, anyway, perhaps because he's older, or perhaps because he met the boys they went with first.

Either way, we see here that Calo readily takes responsibility for his actions and decisions, and that he doesn't forgive himself easily. We also see that Calo learns from his mistakes—otherwise, he wouldn't be so thrilled to be able to use his and Cirone's uncles as an excuse not to go out hunting again.

Of course, none of us can be angels all the time, though, right? Even Calo can bring out the claws when he feels cheated or burned, and he does get jealous of Cirone sometimes. When he finds out that Cirone has been hanging out with the hunting boys, for instance, Calo's pretty much just like, "What else have you done without me?" (23.41). He's so mad that he's lost his friends without knowing it that he wants to punch something.

Calo is able to look at himself critically, though, and when he does, he realizes that he's been spending the little free time he has with his lady, Patricia—and when he puts this together, he understands that it isn't so much his friends who ditched him, but he who ditched his friends. After he realizes that, he humbly asks to hang out again. And, because Calo is such a great guy, they're happy to have him back.

A Complicated Guy

Calogero is both ignorant and wise, unknowing and knowing at the same time. That means we get to spend the book with a kid who knows enough to lead us through the story but is naive enough that we worry about him and root for him. Calo is also smart enough to know that he needs knowledge and help from other characters. And when they teach him stuff, they teach us stuff, too.

This novel is historical fiction, and that means that when Calo learns stuff about the world around him, we readers get caught up on important people, places, and events, too.

When Frank Raymond takes Calo to meet his Native American friend, Joseph, Calo learns loads of history, for example. Calo's never met a Native American before this, so he is a blank slate—just like many readers. In this scene, Calo tells Joseph that he is Sicilian. Joseph doesn't like this news, telling him: "'You brought the yellow fever'" (8.34). Calo is confused—and maybe you are, too—so Frank sets Joseph and Calo both straight, explaining exactly what the disease is and how it spreads. Didn't know the history of yellow fever? You do now.

Okay, so maybe Calo didn't know too much about yellow fever, but he's got a lot of wisdom about other things. Just a page after Calo finds out about the history of yellow fever, we find him thinking some pretty deep thoughts:

I watch Frank Raymond and Joseph, and I understand why they're friends. I understand why someone would go someplace to spend their last days making bowls. Joseph didn't come here to die, after all. He came here to live. In beauty. (8.64)

That's a pretty mature perspective to have, and one that helps us understand and appreciate Joseph and the cultural clashes taking place left and right at this time. That Calo tries so hard, that he is so kind, and that he walks the line between wisdom and immaturity all combine to make him a very relatable and likeable character.

Which is good, since, you know, we're pretty much stuck with him in this book.

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