Book review: The Reluctant Journal of Henry K. Larsen by Susin Nielsen

13330305Henry is a 13 year-old boy who loves wrestling, trivia and uses food as a coping mechanism. He is also a boy with a secret, one that gives him nightmares and threatens to break up his family. His journal is reluctant because his therapist is the one that suggested it. Henry, like any red-blood 13 year old, resents having to see a therapist, resents anyone who tries to bring up the reason why they moved in the first place. He wants to forget IT ever happened. When he is befriended by the kid who looks like “the model for that nerd action figure you can buy in novelty stores” at his new school and starts crushing on his Home Ec partner, Henry realises that certain walls are hard to keep up.

The description at the back of the book sums up Nielsen’s Governor General Award winning book perfectly: a young teen rebuilds his life after the worst-case scenario. Despite the shopworn plot technique of the therapeutic journal, Nielsen manages to do what I think might be very difficult in a novel, what Sherman Alexie manages in the Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian and John Green in every book he has ever written: she manages to write a character that is as funny as he is moving and tragic. The original perspective is also refreshing; Henry iss not the bully, not the bullied (though there are moments where he is in danger of becoming this) and not even the bystander. He is the brother  of the victim and the aggressor (tad bit of a spoiler alert, though Nielsen reveals this very soon in the book.)

Although I think Nielsen might have made a mistake by having Henry refer constantly to his excess fat as his “wobblies” – it felt too cutesy cutesy and young for a 13 year-old boy who is trying to be exactly the opposite – Henry’s smart, sensitive nature still shines through.

This is a very good addition to the canon of middle-grade books about bullying.

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