Thursday, 6 December 2018

No Fixed Address

Author: Susin Nielsen
Genre: Middle School Fiction, Canadian
Type: Hardcover
Pages: 280
: Local Public Library
Publisher: Tundra Books (Penguin Random House Canada)
First Published: September 11, 2018
Opening Lines: "My leg jiggled up and down. I shifted from one bum cheek to the other. My palms felt damp and my heart was pounding. "I've never been interrogated before."

Book Description from GoodReads: 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.

Felix Knuttson, twelve, is an endearing kid with an incredible brain for trivia. His mom Astrid is loving but unreliable; she can't hold onto a job, or a home. When they lose their apartment in Vancouver, they move into a camper van, just for August, till Astrid finds a job. September comes, they're still in the van; Felix must keep "home" a secret and give a fake address in order to enroll in school. Luckily, he finds true friends. As the weeks pass and life becomes grim, he struggles not to let anyone know how precarious his situation is. When he gets to compete on a national quiz show, Felix is determined to win -- the cash prize will bring them a home. Their luck is about to change! But what happens is not at all what Felix expected.

My Rating: 5 stars

My Review: Susin Nielsen, you've done it again!! A few years ago I unabashedly gushed over her We Are All Made of Molecules so, readers, be prepared because there's a strong chance of gushing in the forecast for her latest book, No Fixed Address (a book I read in one day). The story focuses on the life Felix, a 12-year-old boy who loves trivia, his gerbil, Horatio and his mom, Astrid. They're a regular, small family except that they live in a van. They are one of the unseen homeless.

With No Fixed Address, Nielsen has written a touching and revelatory read about the issue of homelessness in Canada. Readers witness the lengths Felix will go to ensure that no one finds out that he's homeless. His mother, Astrid, for reasons of her own, has instilled a fear of the Ministry of Children and Family Development in her son and insists that this is a secret they must keep until they can get back on their feet which she keeps promising will be 'any day now'.

One of my favourite things about Nielsen's work is the diversity of her characters. Once again, Nielsen provides a diverse cast which showcases the wonderful heterogeneity of Canada. As Felix says
"I'm fifty percent Swedish, twenty-five percent Haitian, twenty-five percent French. Add it up and it equals one hundred percent Canadian."

But while there is an assortment of backgrounds/beliefs/ethnicities to her characters, the focus remains on the issues, the plot and her complex main characters.

Felix is smart, kind, quirky and has more on his plate than most kids his age. With more than a little ingenuity and strength, he struggles to take care of his mom, get his own basic needs met, go to school and hide their secret. He finds strength in his friendships with Dylan and the very Hermione-like Winnie Wu, his love of learning and his plan to compete on his favourite trivia show and win enough money to bring him and Astrid out of poverty. Through it all, you know Felix loves his mom, but you also see his growing frustration with their situation and his inability to care for himself during his mother's long emotional 'Slumps'.

Astrid is a complicated character. You know she won't be in the running for Mother of the Year, nor is she the worst of the bunch, but you understand her fierce love for her son even though her behaviours were deeply flawed and often unethical/illegal.

This story will tug at your heart strings and will open your eyes to the issue of homelessness in Canada and how easily one's circumstances can change from home owner to homeless. Sprinkled liberally with great Canadian culture, this is a touching story about poverty, friendship, family and hope.

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