The Reluctant Journal of Henry K Larsen by Susin Nielsen

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The Reluctant Journal of Henry K Larsen by Susin Nielsen

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Category: Teens
Rating: 4/5
Reviewer: Tanja Jennings
Reviewed by Tanja Jennings
Summary: A poignant and witty account of a boy trying to put his life back together after a terrible event. Nielsen skilfully crafts her characters but delivers Henry's revelation about 'IT' a little too early.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 272 Date: February 2016
Publisher: Andersen Press
External links: Author's website
ISBN: 9781783443666

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Susin Nielsen is adept at conveying how you shouldn't judge someone on a first impression and how it's who you are that matters not what you look like. When we first meet Henry he is in counselling and dealing with an emotional trauma by speaking in a monotonous robot voice. His family has been fragmented by the cataclysmic 'IT' which he refuses to talk about. Ripped away from his comfortable life in Port Salish, Henry is struggling to readjust whilst living with his dad in a dingy and cramped apartment in Kitsilano, Vancouver, Canada. Gradually he starts to come out of his shell as he discovers new friends and interests but the road to recovery is not straightforward. Luckily he has his journal, albeit reluctantly.

Henry's refuge is the dramatic and over the top 'Saturday Night Smash Up' wrestling, a viewing pleasure his family used to share, which he hopes they can again. He confides in his counsellor, Cecil, whom he describes as a fashion refugee from the 1960s, that he likes to root for the underdog which is why his favourite wrestler is 'The Great Dane'. The trouble is he is trying to 'fit in' at a new high school and find a clique but social misfit Farley can't seem to leave him alone. From their first meeting, he is an unstoppable force of enthusiasm. Then there's the sassy, quirky, bolshie Alberta who is starting to get under his skin. It's not much better in his apartment block where 'Vulture 1', Karen Vargas, is determined to embarrass him and pester his dad but could her behaviour be masking something deeper? As if that wasn't bad enough 'Vulture 2', Mr Atapattu, is keeping him under surveillance while foisting spicy food on him.

This book explores the importance of family ties and friendship using Henry's self-deprecating narrative voice to provide some comic relief as an antidote to the darker themes of bullying, violence, alcohol abuse, depression, mental breakdown and loneliness. His confessional and self-referential diary entry style of writing makes the reader aware that they are reading his story which evokes sympathy by connecting them to Henry's feelings of guilt, loss, fear, powerlessness and frustration.

Nielsen is also accomplished at portraying locations and emotions, juxtaposing the claustrophobic urban apartment where Henry is staying now with his memories of happier times in the seaside town of Port Salish and vacationing with his grandparents in picturesque Ontario. Particularly telling is her description of High School as a Pod where only those kids who manage to bond with each other in cliques survive. Henry's head is full of facts and his diary has intertextual references to Jeopardy , South Park, The Parent Trap and Fatal Attraction, which influence him in his attitudes towards people. He caustically describes his new friend Farley as like the first car you buy which gets you from A-B but the moment you own it you are constantly dreaming of an upgrade. Is this what he really feels or is it just part of his bitterness? Henry's counselling sessions are also revealing peppered with inadvertent comedy, acute observation and pain.

Why did Henry leave Port Salish? Why should Henry be interested in 'Reach for the Top' and recycling school rubbish? Why does he run away when Jodie appears? Who are Troy, Scott and Jesse? Why does Henry have nightmares about a slide and what is making him 'get the wobblies'? What's hypertrichosis? Where is Mrs Larsen?

For the answers to these questions and more read Henry's story which is gloriously character-driven and as Nielsen professes blends dark with light. If you enjoy Nielsen's balanced treatment of characters whose lives are irrevocably changed by sudden family rifts and social prejudice you should check out We Are All Made of Molecules, a Carnegie Long List choice.

If you are in the mood to dive into more books that deal sensitively with emotive subjects in powerful, poignant, thought-provoking, evocative, lyrical and wryly humorous ways why not also try Life On The Refrigerator Door by Alice Kuipers, Nineteen Minutes by Jodi Picoult, Mockingbird by Kathryn Erskine, The Way I See It by Nicole Dryburgh, Dandelion Clocks by Rebecca Westcott and One by Sarah Crossan. You might also enjoy Word Nerd by Susin Nielsen.

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Buy The Reluctant Journal of Henry K Larsen by Susin Nielsen at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy The Reluctant Journal of Henry K Larsen by Susin Nielsen at


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