Nix Minus One by Jill MacLean

With the lengthening days I’ve been enjoying spending more lovely time in the garden.  But the other evening the storms of winter returned.  So I sat down to read Nix Minus One by Jill MacLean.  I couldn’t put it down.  A free verse novel, Nix Minus One is a powerful and seamless narrative that doesn’t shy away from difficult issues.

Jill MacLean is a seasoned writer who perfectly captures the voice of the socially awkward fifteen year old protagonist, Nix Humbolt.  Nix would rather fly under the radar at school than confront his tormentors who’ve nick-named him “Fatty Humbolt.” Most often, Nix takes refuge in his father’s wood working shop.  There he creates beautiful wooden boxes, tables, and bird houses for Blue, the younger sister of a class senior and hockey star. Nix may not stand up for himself, but does his best to care for a neighbor’s neglected dog, whom he names Twig.  And he will fight dragons if it would keep his sometimes acerbic sometimes wise older sister Roxy from harm. Things take a turn for the worse once Roxy starts dating Bryan Sykes. Nix tries to warn Roxy that Sykes is a player who’s about to dump her but he is unable to stop his sister’s downward spiral.

MacLean’s poems capture moments of  joy and pain equally well. Nix describes hiking the barrens with Twig, “At the crest, where the brook/meets the edge/and falls,/I straighten, panting,/ and turn around./Breath catches in my throat. The sun’s sinking over Labrador,/the gulf waxed gold.” And, later Nix is in the workshop ” thinking how I’ve dovetailed/guilt to grief–“.

In the end, it is Twig’s faithfulness and Blue’s persistence that help Nix move beyond putting one foot in front of the other  to see that light can “shiver on water.”  I’d highly recommend Nix Minus One. Chalk up another win for Pajama Press!

More on Family Literacy Day

The Children’s Book Centre wants to help you celebrate family literacy today and all year long with an annotated list of fabulous books to inspire reading.  Check it out.  Family Literacy Day (January 27, 2012) | Canadian Children’s Book Centre.

Thirteen Reasons Why by Jay Asher

I never travel without a book or two or three, but that doesn’t stop me from buying new ones along the way, even if I haven’t finished what I brought.  So, at a cute little bookstore along the wharf in San Francisco I picked up Jay Asher‘s Thirteen Reasons Why.  It isn’t new, but it’s one of those books that I’ve been meaning to read, and there it was front and centre.  I had a little bit of a hard time getting into it at first, possibly because we were busy being tourists ( seeing the sights of San Francisco and then touring wine country, and on to the Redwoods) and partly because the subject matter is pretty tough.  It’s about suicide.  It’s the story of how a young high school girl who is full of life could reach a place where she’d want to end her life. And believe me, it’s an amazing journey.

Once I had a chunk of time to sit down with Thirteen Reasons Why, I couldn’t put it down.  The story is mainly told in two voices; that of Hannah’s taped voice (the words from her tapes appear in italics) and Clay Jenson’s voice; one of the thirteen people who received the tapes.  Clay doesn’t know who delivered them, but he recognizes Hannah’s voice instantly.  He listens to the thoughtless acts, secrets and betrayals of thirteen people  and how each contributed to Hannah’s decision to take her life.  At first Clay can’t understand why he’s on Hannah’s list. Other than that party where they talked and kissed, he’s never done anything to Hannah Baker except worship her from afar. But, over the course of a day and a night, he listens to Hannah’s voice and visits the places around town she indicates are important.   The more he listens, the more he understands that small actions and even the lack of action can have enormous consequences.

Thirteen Reasons Why is frustrating and sad, and funny, and hopeful all at the same time.  Asher perfectly captures what it’s like to be a teenager; the way it feels to be excited and then disappointed.  The way it feels to be used, or invisible.  The way it feels to reach out only to be misunderstood, or understood too late.  This is a difficult but compelling read that I highly recommend.