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Monday, February 18, 2013

Nix Minus One, written by Jill Maclean. Pajama Press, 2013. $14.95 ages 12 and up

Safe and silent,
that's your gig. Let's play with nails,
let's avoid all sports, let's fall for a girl
who belongs to someone else - remember
the box you made for my birthday?
That's how you live your life, inside
a box you've made of yourself."

I'm sorry that the text above does not look as it does in this wonderfully written novel-in-verse. It's a small glitch in posting. But, I want to share this passage with you, as I want to share so many more. I honestly could go on and on.  I found myself going back again and again to reread page after page:

"I drop my tray.

what a crash
one tray
makes on a tiled floor
and how far
Wednesday's special
- beef stew -
can splash."

In an interview Jill Maclean she said she writes character driven books. She hit the nail on the head with that statement, given the memorable characters she creates here...Nix, Roxy, Bryan, Twig, Chase, Loren and Blue, and Nix's parents. Set in Newfoundland, this is his story about family, conflict, friendship, death, secrets, a dog and a budding romance. The characters who people the pages are expertly drawn: flawed, remarkable, and redemptive for the most part.

I love them for many reasons...their vulnerability, their strength, their unparalleled concern for others. Well, not Bryan...not at all, but there has to be a villain; or the men who own Twig and treat her so abominably. Sorrow, and an inability to deal with it, tears at the Humboldt family which is stoic, secretive, and who all have reasons for doing what they do.

Nix, the narrator, is an introvert, happy to be on the outside and mostly alone. He finds solace in woodworking and creates beautiful tables and boxes. He worries about his older sister Roxy, his emotional opposite and a girl who is headed for big trouble. Nix can do nothing to keep her safe. He also has grave concern for Swiff Dunphy's dog Twig. His fears about neglect and abuse lead him up the path to Swiff's yard and a heartwarming connection to Twig, a bit of an outcast himself. Both grow and become stronger as they spend time together. Nix finds in that strength the power to show his concern for both Twig and Roxy, and determines to do something about those he loves.

The cost is high:

"             Dad drives into the school yard,
climbs out of the truck. I try to loosen my muscles
enough to stand upright. Through the only eye
that seems to be open, I see terror on his face.
His boots anchor themselves to the pavement.

"It's okay," I say. "I was in a fight.
The other guy looks worse."

but eventually things turn hopeful for Nix's family:

"She looks from me to Dad
and back again. Tears spout
from her eyes. She seizes Dad's hand,
bringing it to her wet cheek,
and clutches my shoulder.
"I've missed both of you...I've felt so far away and lonely."
The love in her voice,
                    it hurts my ears.
Dad's smile would light a whole hospital.

I rest the good side
of my face on Mom's arm."   

So worthy of your attention. Please look for a copy!


  1. Many thanks Sal for your thoughtful and insightful comments.

    I'm so glad that readers are discovering Nix and enjoying his story.

  2. Do you know of any connections (world, text, self) to this book? I found it hard to find any (in the first third of the novel).
    And what do you think about the issues (bullying etc) talked about in this novel?
    I really liked your choice of quotes,
    thank you! :)