Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Top Titles of 2013: The Reluctant Journal of Henry K. Larsen by Susin Nielsen

I read a lot of books in 2013 and didn't get a chance to blog about them. Over the next while I'll be sharing with you my favorites.

The Reluctant Journal of Henry K. Larsen by Susin Nielsen

Forced by his therapist to keep a journal, 13-year-old Henry shares humorous insights as he navigates a new school and struggles to reconcile his love for his deceased older brother, with his anger toward him, he murdered another student before turning the gun on himself.

This is a tender and timely novel that looks at the aftermath of a school shooting through the eyes of the shooter's younger brother. The emotions that Henry feels are complex and he struggles with mourning the loss of the brother who has ripped their family and community apart. While the subject matter is heavy, there are plenty of lighter moments. Henry's journal will even have you laughing out loud at certain passages as Henry befriends the painfully awkward Farley and they undertake a scheme to make enough money to get tickets for a live professional wrestling event. Henry's love of professional wrestling and terminology for the sport are integrated into the story, as are the "intriguing facts" he has stored up in his trivia-savvy head. Characters, including the secondary characters who live in Henry's building and go to school with him, are realistically and fully drawn and are quirky and troubled in their own ways. More than just a book about forgiveness and moving on after tragedy, this is also a story about the importance of speaking out and standing up for victims of bullying.

This is a perfect read for a younger teen audience (think 6th-8th grade) and will also find an audience with reluctant readers. Readers should be prepared to laugh and also to cry.  I've found that this book reads equally well for boys and girls and have even had several of the teachers read and pass around this book.  Not a single detractor yet!

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