Recommended Age, Grade, and Reading Levels
- Age: 10 to 18
- Grade: 5 to 12
Thirteen-year-old Henry's happy, ordinary life comes to an abrupt halt when his older brother, Jesse, picks up their father's hunting rifle and leaves the house one morning. What follows shatters Henry's family, who are forced to resume their lives in a new city, where no one knows their past. When Henry's therapist suggests he keeps a journal, at first he is resistant. But soon he confides in it at all hours of the day and night.
About the author
Susin Nielsen got her start feeding cast and crew on the popular television series, Degrassi Junior High. They hated her food, but they saw a spark in her writing. Nielsen went on to pen sixteen episodes of the hit TV show. Since then, Nielsen has written for over 20 Canadian TV series. Her first young adult novel, Word Nerd, was published in 2008 to critical acclaim. It won multiple Young Readers’ Choice Awards, as did her second novel, Dear George Clooney: Please Marry My Mom. Her third novel, The Reluctant Journal of Henry K. Larsen, was published in August 2012. It went on to win the Governor General’s Literary Award, the Ruth and Sylvia Schwartz Award, the Canadian Library Association’s Children’s Book of the Year Award, and a number of Young Readers’ Choice Awards. Author Wally Lamb named it his top YA pick for 2012 in his “First Annual Wally Awards,” and recently Rolling Stone magazine put it at #27 in their list of “Top 40 Best YA Novels.” Her books have been translated into multiple languages. Susin’s new novel, We Are All Made of Molecules, will be published in Canada, the US and the UK in Spring of 2015. She lives in Vancouver with her family and two naughty cats.
WINNER - Governor General's Award - Children's Literature (2012)
FINALIST - BC Book Prizes’ Sheila A. Egoff Children’s Literature Prize
PRAISE FOR The Reluctant Journal of Henry K. Larsen:
". . . With fully developed adult and child characters and a solid sense of middle school humor, the author has crafted an insightful and nuanced novel about bullying and suicide, and familial love and resilience." --Starred Review, School Library Journal
". . . a highly emotional story about a family that blames one another, and themselves, for an unimaginable tragedy. Nielsen’s balance of humor and pathos is finely honed, making this a surprisingly breezy read for so heavy a topic." --Booklist
". . . A realistic, poignant portrait of one teen who overcomes nearly unbearable feelings of grief and guilt." --Kirkus Reviews
"The Reluctant Journal of Henry K. Larsen by Susin Nielsen is an engaging grief story. Thought-provoking and relevant, it addresses the effects of bullying in a realistic, compelling and compassionate way, exemplifying the adage ‘There are two sides to every story.’ Henry’s journey is moving and weirdly, wildly funny." --Jury’s Citation, Governor General’s Literary Award in Children’s Text
". . .Words and writing are often a salvation in Nielsen’s YA fiction. Henry is forced to keep a journal by his therapist; he is at first reluctant, then obsessive about it. A born diarist, he exhibits the idiosyncratic voice of a memoirist, one keenly interested in documenting both his inner and outer worlds. He captures both with humour and heart. . . . Yet the novel is a dramedy, and believably balances lightness and darkness. It is a shame when the reader must put down the journal and say goodbye to Henry." --The National Post
"Nielsen treats a heavy subject with a light, optimistic touch, and while Henry’s passion and distress are evident, his wacky commitment to ‘Saturday Night Smash-up’ and his own ironic, yet earnest, perspective leavens the serious subject matter." --The Toronto Star
". . . Henry’s is a tough story to read and I can only imagine how hard it was to write it. But it’s one that really needs to be heard. And honestly, I couldn’t have pictured anyone but Nielsen telling it." --Lavender Lines
The Reluctant Journal of Henry K. LarsenSeasoned screenwriter and author Susin Nielsen has already penned two exemplary middle grade novels that tackle abandonment issues and bullying with a depth of frank honesty and wit that will appeal to young readers. With The Reluctant Journal of Henry K. Larsen, she has added a third.
Suffering from post-traumatic stress, and on the advice of his therapist, 13-year-old Henry reluctantly starts a journal recounting how he and his father are adjusting to a move to a new town after his brother Jesse’s violent actions turned their former community against them. Henry covers his pain by overeating (referring to parts of his body affectionately as “wobblies”) and going into a “robot-voice” whenever the topic of his brother comes up.
Two things keep Henry afloat: wrestling and his trivia skills. His hopes for anonymity at school are quickly dashed when he befriends Farley, who not only gets him involved in the school’s quiz team, Reach for the Top, but also comes up with a scheme to get tickets to an upcoming wrestling match in Seattle. Like the adults in Henry’s life, who don’t always show the best examples of coping, his friends are also multi-dimensional and endearingly human with imperfect lives of their own.
As Henry slowly comes to terms with what happened, Nielsen makes the reader understand that things don’t happen in a vacuum and that we cannot change the past. But maybe — with trivia, homemade curry and watching the little guy win once in a while — we can make the present just a little bit better.
Source: The Canadian Children's Bookcentre. Fall 2012. Volume 35 No. 4.