Reading this book this week was timely, since it deals with the aftermath of a tragic event and how the family members are affected. Moving forward from something traumatic is not an easy thing, and we have a window here into how Henry starts to make his way, with a little help.
The Reluctant Journal of Henry K Larsen
by Susin Nielsen
ISBN: 978 1 77049 372 8
I loved Word Nerd, by Susin Nielsen, who knows her way around giving good quirky, offbeat characters, and even writes that lovable nerd, Ambrose, into this book as a minor character. This book is a whole new level of looking at bullying and oddballs, though, and it is a very good read. Where Word Nerd won the Red Maple, Reluctant Journal has won the Governor General’s Award – yes, she is establishing herself some serious literary cred, and it is well-deserved.
At the outset of the book, we know something has happened in Henry’s life – something serious enough that he is seeing a therapist and has moved schools. We know it’s just him and his dad, and that they are major wrestling fans, and we know that he is not thrilled with any of this and took to talking in a robot voice as a coping mechanism. The rest of the story comes out slowly, as Henry allows himself to talk about it and open up incrementally at first, and then in a flood.
I hate to post any spoilers, but the content is key here, so I’m going to give you the sketch outline, though not the ending. Henry’s brother had been badly bullied and ended it by shooting the ringleader and then himself, taking both of their lives. Henry’s family was instantly hated, and left the community. His mother, unable to cope, had had a breakdown and was is still recovering in another province, leaving him and his dad to fend for themselves as they try to start a new life while coping with the emotional fallout from the past. It’s not an easy topic, but Nielsen finds a perfect balance between the serious and the light here, blending moments of absurdity and regular teenage moments with times of emotional intensity and poignancy in perfect proportion. It is a really, really great read without ever making light, and I highly recommend it for teen readers.
Also available as an ebook.