Plot: Henry and his father have just moved to Vancouver where no one knows about the terrible thing that happened a year ago. But Henry can’t forget. His mother has been admitted to a mental institution, he is plagued by nightmares and worried about a possible divorce. Most of all, he is terrified that his family’s secret will be revealed and they will be ostracized once more. When he notices that his new friend – and fellow professional wrestling fan – Farley is the victim of bullying, he fears the past may be repeating itself. On his therapist’s suggestion he has been writing down his experiences. This is his reluctant journal.
This review is based on an ARC provided by Netgalley.
Nielsen’s third book takes place in the same world as Word Nerd and Dear George Clooney (indeed Ambrose from the former and Karen from the later return). The themes are much darker than in the previous two titles but The Reluctant Journal retains Nielsen’s signature humour. A book about bullying and grief should probably not be funny but she has a gift for making a person smile even in the midst of terrible tragedy.
A large part of this is due to her casts of quirky, complex characters. Henry, “who is only writing this because his therapist said he had to, which stinks”, is not quite as strange as Ambrose nor as horrible as Violet but he is awkward and troubled and deals with adversity By. Talking. In a. Robot. Voice. His friend Farley is a stereotypical nerd (with a pocket protector and all) with the ability to bounce back whatever happens to him. And then there is Alberta with her excentric clothes, her lazy eye and her unabashed rudeness whom Henry falls head over heels for. Add to that some quirky, quarrelling neighbours and two parents too overcome by grief to be proper parents to their remaining son. I feel like I’ve known these people all my life (and have occasionally been exasperated by them ^_^).
This is a great book about a difficult situation. Young readers will be able to relate to Henry, to his troubles and to his love of professional wrestling (indeed, Nielsen has almost made me want to watch it). I highly recommend it.
I was thrilled to be able to meet Susin Nielsen at BEA. And she remembered me from Twitter! Keep writing awesome books about strange, troubled kids. ^_^
The Reluctant Journal of Henry K. Larsen will be released in September 2012.