Saturday, December 22, 2012
The Reluctant Journal of Henry K. Larsen, written by Susin Nielsen. Tundra Books, 2012. $19.99 ages 12 and up
It is not a difficult task to love and admire Susin Nielsen's work. This is her third novel and I am a huge fan of each one, and every word written. She is VERY good at what she does.
Henry and his Dad have moved from their home in Port Salish to a dingy apartment in Vancouver. It's a new school for Henry and a bit of anonymity for both. His mother is in Ontario, living in an institution near her parents and trying to deal with the fallout from a life-changing event in Port Salish. Henry calls that time IT. Henry is happy that no one knows him at Trafalgar Secondary and he does everything he can to keep it that way. He is seeing a psychologist and not happy about it:
"Cecil has long stringy gray hair, and he uses a scrunchy to pull it back. A scrunchy! Today, at our third session, he was wearing yet another tie-dyed shirt, purple this time. Hey Cecil, I wanted to say,
the '60s called. They want their look back! He says, "How does that make you feel?" a lot, like we're on a TV show and not real life. He also says, "Holy Moly" a lot, as in "Holy Moly, you're fifteen minutes late, two weeks in a row!"
I loved Henry from the very first page. He has much to share in his journal, reluctantly written. He ise trying to leave behind the nightmare of his brother's pain filled and irrational decision to kill the bully who has mercilessly tormented him and then committing suicide himself. Henry wants no one to know the trauma their family is facing, and he certainly doesn't want to talk about it all in a journal. But, that is his given task. So, he includes entries about being on the Reach for the Top Team, about his growing friendship with Farley who has issues of his own, and his fascination with Alberta, a beautiful, sometimes scary and always refreshing female classmate.
Susin Nielsen is achingly adept at handling the pain and grieving that Henry faces. She writes with honesty and holds nothing back. At the same time, her book is funny, poignant and eye-opening. It is often humor that hides the hurt and allows some relief from the depth of pain being felt. Henry's voice is powerful, resilient and vulnerable. You will not forget him.
The other characters created to people Henry's new life are very special. Neighbors who have endured their own pain and are trying to come to terms with the ways in which their lives have changed, new school friends who prove to be loyal and compassionate, even old friends who have found peace through healing. Henry learns much in his new school. Bullies always find their targets, good people are everywhere and pain, regret and guilt can be alleviated with support and time.
"We entered the school. I could tell right away from the looks I got that Farley was right. People knew. But I think Farley must have talked to the Reach For The Top kids because, whenever I walked into a classroom, one of them would come and sit beside me right away. Like in Socials, Jerome sits beside me all the time now. He's a man of few words. "Hey," he'll say as he slips into the seat beside me. "Hey," I'll say back."
Henry is a charmer. He will make you laugh, and he will make you cry. If you are embarrassed to cry in public or to laugh out loud while your head is buried in a brilliant book, read it when alone. But do read it, please. It is so worth it!