Susin Nielsen’s The Reluctant Journal of Henry K. Larsen is a Governor General Award winning book about a young teen who rebuilds his life after the worst-case scenario. It’s a wonderful book for any age and it has won multiple awards and has also been nominated for B.C.’s Chocolate Lily award, which is just another reason to post a review of it.
Henry is a 13-year old boy who’s entire life has recently changed. His mom is living apart from he and his father, he is starting again at a new school without any friends, but most difficult of all is coping with “it”. Which is where the ‘reluctant’ part of the title comes in. Henry, who is seeing a counsellor is tasked to write a journal about his day to day activity and feelings. Through clever narrative strategy Nielsen has changed the age old ‘journal’ into a wonderful medium through which we get to the heart of Henry’s story. Henry’s narration is very much at the surface: he’s very angry, deeply saddened and lost, and it comes across in his expressive and affecting entries. Henry and his parents are just trying to hold on, while attempting to forge a new life in Vancouver- where no one knows about “it”. He never anticipates opening up to anyone- not to his wonderful new friend Farley, to his therapist, and especially not to two nosy and lonely neighbors. But before long, incidents at his school and changes in his home life force Henry to talk about Jesse, his brother, and the “IT” that changed his whole life.In illustrious Susin Nielsen fashion, this text is beautifully written, with a charming and relatable and very real narrator who has to deal with life. Sometime’s life can be funny, and the book certainly has a poignant and realistic humour, but often life is difficult and full of consequential matters. (SPOILERS) Henry’s perspective is also very fresh and new as he is the brother of Jesse, who shot kids at school and then committed suicide. Reading the balance between how much Henry loves and misses his brother but also hates and despises him is heart wrenching. Henry transforms from a victim into an agentive teen who looks forward to the rest of his life, even though it is vastly different. This book is much darker than Nielsen’s previous two teen novels Word Nerd and Dear George Cloony Please Marry My Mom, as this text deals with – among other topics- mental illness, bullying, suicide, death and grief. But there is humour and there is hope, and it is so wonderfully written.
SO! I of course recommend this book highly! This book isn’t just for kids and teens, I think parents, teachers and interested adults would enjoy it and be touched by it too.
Susin Nielsen got her start writing a spec script for the popular television series Degrassi Junior High. She went on to pen sixteen episodes of the hit television show and four of theDegrassi books. Since then, she has received two Canadian Screenwriter Awards and a Gemini Award and has written for many home-grown TV series. Her novel Word Nerd, published to much critical acclaim, was a finalist for the TD Canadian Children’s Book Award and won the Red Maple, Rocky Mountain, Willow, and Manitoba Young Readers’ Choice Awards. This was soon followed by the hilarious and heartwarming Dear George Clooney, Please Marry My Mom, which has received rave reviews and has already been translated into French, Portuguese and German. Susin Nielsen lives in Vancouver, British Columbia.