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.

Scar Boys by Len Vlahos

A severely burned teenager. A guitar. Punk rock. The chords of a rock ‘n’ roll road trip in a coming-of-age novel that is a must-read story about finding your place in the world…even if you carry scars inside and out. 

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In addition to praise for debut author Len Vlahos and his characters, the back cover hails The Scar Boys as “THE MOST ANTICIPATED YOUNG ADULT NOVEL OF 2014” . That’s quite a big statement!  Unfortunately, I didn’t feel as moved or impressed as these booksellers.

Readers are introduced to Harry through his personal essay to The University of Scranton in 1987.  Rather than sticking to the 250 word limit, he writes his life story using appropriately titled rock and roll chapter headings.  The story opens with Harry becoming severely scarred (both physically and emotionally) after almost being struck by lightning. After Harry is rejected by a girl, his best friend suggests they start a band, and so, The Scar Boys is born.  With a passion for music, they take their three dude, one woman band on the road.  No surprise to anyone that the girl and the van become an added complication for the band.

I understand that like Harry, not everyone has the goal to attend college. Many people are just as well off following their dreams.  Obviously there is a transformative power in playing music, but I didn’t like the ending. He admits to being a coward and that playing guitar, loving music, and having friends is ‘good enough’ for him. How depressing.

The Scar Boys tour your way January 2014.

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