No Fixed Address by Susin Nielsen

From beloved Governor General Literary Award–winning author Susin Nielsen comes a touching and funny middle-grade story about family, friendship and growing up when you’re one step away from homelessness.

37683441As I was preparing to do outreach at a temporary housing shelter, I came across the middle grade read by Susin Nielsen.  I was ecstatic because not only is she Canadian and a wonderful writer; it’s also hard to come by books that feature kids experiencing homelessness.

This story features 12 year old Felix, who is “between places” and living in a van with his mom. Readers learn how quickly circumstances can change and the lengths people go to survive.  Living in the van was supposed to be a temporary fix, but Felix’s mother falls into a “slump” and the months go by.  As a result, his realistic experiences like hiding his poverty, and using the school bathrooms to do cleansing wipe downs are heartbreaking.   Speaking about realistic experiences—I’m sure it does happen every now and again, but I could have did without the public sex act (masturbation) at the public library.  As a librarian, the public library already deals with enough misconceptions.  We want to encourage the public (especially low income individuals) to utilize the library’s resources and space- not scare them away.

Overall, an honest, important and sensitive read regarding homelessness and mental health.  Although the TV game show storyline does feel far-fetched, I’m glad Felix’s story ends on a hopeful note.

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Crenshaw by Katherine Applegate

Jackson and his family have fallen on hard times. There’s no more money for rent. And not much for food, either. His parents, his little sister, and their dog may have to live in their minivan. Again. Crenshaw is a cat. He’s large, he’s outspoken, and he’s imaginary. He has come back into Jackson’s life to help him. But is an imaginary friend enough to save this family from losing everything?
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For a quick read, this book manages to cover heavy issues like poverty and homelessness. The impact on children is an important topic to include in juvenile fiction; however, the parents in this story really irritated me. Rather than seek out all the possible sources of help, they let pride stand in the way. In turn, the children developed major anxiety and their bellies growled of hunger. Jackson even turns to shoplifting to feed his hungry sister.

In addition to Jackson’s parents, I was also annoyed with Jackson’s imaginary friend, Crenshaw. Crenshaw the cat seems to appear when Jackson experiences anxiety. As shown in flashbacks, this anxiety stems from his family’s financial situation. Since I’ve never had an imaginary friend, I’m not really sure how Crenshaw helps Jackson. Crenshaw explains, “Imaginary friends are like books. We’re created, we’re enjoyed, we’re dog-eared and creased, and then we’re tucked away until we’re needed again (p. 222).” While this is a lovely thought, Crenshaw has little personality, and doesn’t provide Jackson with wise advice, or comic relief. He’s barely even in the book! Overall, Crenshaw was a bit of a disappointment, but I’ve been told Applegate’s The One and Only Ivan is better.

Book Review: Box of Shocks by Chris McMahen

From Goodreads:

Oliver has helicopter parents—they love him, but they seriously cramp his style. He decides to fill an old wooden box with souvenirs from some of his outrageous and daring exploits. That way, he’ll never forget the zombies, the killer dogs and the crazy cows, and his parents will never know that he once jumped from a bridge with the police in hot pursuit. But the biggest shock comes when Oliver realizes that the most terrifying things of all can’t be controlled or contained.

I received this book as an advanced reading copy (released October 2011) from a library supplier (thanks Helen!) and was surprised to find that not many reviews exist on this great book for juveniles! Time to get the word out!

In short, Box of Shocks is a quick, memorable read that would definitely capture the attention of young readers. Hooked right from the first chapter, readers are curious to learn what amazing things the rebellious Oliver will collect to shock his parents. Although the majority of the book is adventurous and fun, it does include some serious subject matter, including poverty. However, like Oliver, I’m not sure young readers will quite understand the seriousness of the situation, as it is never fully explained.  That being said, the book is best suited for readers aged 8-12, so I’m not sure how in depth it could have went without losing the fun, lightness of the storyline.

TEACHERS- Want a free Box of Shocks study guide? Just email the author and he will send you the attachment!http://www.chrismcmahen.blogspot.com/

 

Other reviews:
“The settings where daring young Oliver carries out his secret adventures and collects his shocks (souvenirs to remember the experience) are vivid…A memorable story, full of age-appropriate jokes and sayings, and a plot that moves along quickly enough to hook even the most reluctant reader. Highly Recommended.” (CM Magazine )

“Oliver’s effective first-person narration shifts from accounts of his adventures to a growing understanding about the complicated lives of others—lives that are, often times, more shocking than anything that can be contained in a box.” (Booklist )

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