Book Reviews, YA Book Club for Writers

Book Club Review: No Fixed Address by Susin Nielsen

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.

Our thoughts about this book:

I absolutely love it when we hit on a book that triggers some real feelings from us as individuals in our group. When we can look at issues through different sets of eyes and really have some intense and good conversations. This was a great meeting!

The first thing that came up, almost right away was, “Is this book a middle grade or young adult (YA)?” As the main character Felix is 12 (almost 13), it immediately says “middle grade.” Few novels are successfully written from a younger protagonist’s point of view and holds the attention of an older audience. Some of the incidents alluded to in the story were certainly more of a YA vibe – affairs, sex for money… certainly not middle grade stuff. But again I point out – “alluded to.” Although Felix was a middle grade character, his mom, Astrid, was definitely YA material. We never did agree on where this should really fall. One of our members, a retired teacher, commented that she would have some discomfort reading this to her grade five or six classroom. I said I was glad I’d opted to read this one to myself and not read it with my boys as I sometimes share our book club books with them. However, I also felt I could leave it on the shelf for them to pick up on their own and if it’s above their head, they have both shown they’ll shelf a book and try it later. I feel like they’ll read over those things and not really clue in – like an adult joke in a Pixar movie.

We all agreed that the book was well written, it had excellent pacing and flow. It was believable and realistic. And most of us said it was quite original, until one member said it reminded her of another book she’d read – Word Nerd and when she found it on her shelf, realized it is also a Susin Nielsen book and the similarities between the two stories are uncanny. Which lead to a bit of disappointment. Although someone noted that Word Nerd came out several years ago, so No Fixed Address would have a new audience. We weren’t sure that really warranted such a similarly plotted story. It shouldn’t be an author trend, that’s for sure.

There was a lot of discussion around Astrid, the main character’s mom. She suffered from some serious mental health issues. Some mentioned disappointment that so many issues were pushed under the “depression” umbrella when many of the problems were not depression issues, but something much deeper and more, maybe trauma based. She was difficult to like. And we agreed that she was a selfish parent, if a parent at all. She sacrificed nothing for Felix, he was just along for the roller coaster ride of her life.

The story takes place in Vancouver’s Lower East Side. And book club members familiar with this area said the book portrayed the diversity represented in there very well. The setting was well established.

Without giving any spoilers, I will share that we felt the game show could have been written in a different way. The story is mostly told from Felix’s perspective, except when there are school newspaper articles written by other students, particularly his friend Winnie Wu. We felt that a really key component to the story, the game show, was told from the perspective of Winnie in article form, which had a completely different feel, and would have been more authentic told from Felix’s point of view.

Nielsen did a great job of characterization and making each character unique. From her ways of adding in simple body language which spoke volumes, to touching on so many different ethnicities representative in Vancouver, to giving each character an original voice. This is where I personally looked at what I wanted to take away from this book. This is characterization at it’s finest.

The book also had just the right amount of comic relief as it covered some very heavy topics, particularly homelessness.

Most of us really enjoyed this book and recommend it. The beauty of our book club is members are brave enough to state different opinions from the majority and make everyone think in other perspectives. All the members appreciate the differences as it creates an interesting novel discussion. We also agreed that for us to be so intense in our discussion, that this book obviously struck a chord with each of us on a very personal level in one way or another. Even the next day, some emails went around stating how much we all enjoyed such a lively passionate meeting, with apologies for interrupting each other so much. LOL

__________________________

This is an unsolicited review. I purchased my copy from Amazon.ca.

  • Paperback: 288 pages
  • Publisher: Tundra Books (April 7 2020)
  • ISBN-13: 978-0735262775

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