Wednesday, 7 August 2013

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

The Reluctant Journal of Henry K. Larsen by Susin Nielsen was published in 2012 by Tundra Books. It is about a young boy who struggles with life after his brother's suicide. The book centres on issues that many young children and teenagers face today: bullying, fitting in, issues of self-esteem, identity and self-acceptance. Nielsen's book is a wonderful novel that every young adult should read. These issues are so prevalent in schools, in the media, and in mainstream culture that even if you don't know someone who has lost a loved one to bullying or violence in school, the book is an incredibly personal and a touching read.

Nielsen's narrator, though deeply troubled by the psychological damage of losing a family member to suicide, is incredibly relatable and very much likeable. I did not notice that sometimes the narrator loses touch of staying in the voice of a modern thirteen-year-old boy, using bigger words and a larger vocabulary, but for the most part, the dialogue is flawlessly realistic. On the other hand, the author's minor inconsistencies are helpful for the young readers who are getting used to reading and comprehending longer texts. Moreover, the dialogue and the vocabulary subtly masks the real suffering that this boy feels in reaction to his brother's death.

The topic of teen suicide is not the only relatable subject that young readers today can connect with. Nielsen also includes difficult topics such as loneliness, regret, longing to find happiness, cyber bullying, feeling displaced, fear of being bullied, guilt, and more. It also calls attention to the stress and deterioration of family ties that occurs with tragedies such as suicide.

The Reluctant Journal of Henry K. Larsen is a wonderful piece of Canadian fiction published by Tundra Books. I couldn't put the book down once I started reading it. Henry's heartbreaking tale is an eye-opener into a subject matter that should be discussed more openly, as kids are exposed to more and more true and horrific stories from schools of bullying, suicides, death, and violence. Fictional books like this one can help children to come to terms with the reality of bullying and the detrimental effects of the schoolyard social hierarchy. By raising kids' awareness of these issues and of their participation in what may seem like harmless teasing or taunting, we can make a difference to the lives of kids around the world.

Nielsen is a talented writer who has written a wonderful book for young readers. This book should be considered incorporated into school curriculums. Henry's struggle to understand and move beyond the great pain of losing his brother teaches kids of similar situations that there IS hope; that there IS help out there.

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