Felix Knutsson loves trivia, his pet gerbil, and hanging out with his friend Dylan. Just your average seventh grade boy, right? Wrong. Due to a combination of bad luck and bad parenting, Felix and his mom Astrid are living out of her ex-boyfriend’s van. And no one knows his secret.
Felix has seen a lot in his twelve years. He used to live with his mom, who he calls Astrid, at his grandmother’s house. His “mormor” looked after him while his mother was at work. They played at the park, made gingerbread, and watched Who, What, Where, When, a Canadian trivia show. Mormor teaches Felix to love. But when Mormor dies, Astrid and Felix start their slide into homelessness: from his grandmother’s house, to a sinking condo, to a rental apartment, to a friend’s basement, to a van.
Felix, the optimist, lives up to the Latin root of his name. Living in a van means he can go to the French immersion school in the district they used to live in, where his best friend is. Felix is thrilled to be reunited with Dylan, but is less certain how he feels about Winnie, a know-it-all perfectionist who works with the two boys on the school newspaper. Her hard-hitting journalism strikes a little close to home when she interviews a homeless man who sells poetry for spare change:
Imagine: It is cold and rainy and dark. Instead of crawling into your warm bed in your warm house, you crawl onto a piece of cardboard in a doorway, huddled in a filthy, moldy sleeping bag, just trying to get some shut-eye and not get shooed away or beaten up. This is the life of Bob the Bard. He’s been homeless for twenty years, and as he says, “You think it won’t happen to you. But it can happen to anyone.
Unbeknownst to Winnie, Dylan or his teachers, Felix is a perfect illustration of Winnie’s point. Canadian winter is on the way, and it’s getting harder for Felix to hide his increasingly dire situation. However, hope is on the horizon. Felix thinks he can win enough money on his beloved trivia show Who, What, Where, When to dig his family of two out of trouble. Is he correct? Is he wrong? The answer is none of the above.
Author Susin Nielsin does a spectacular job depicting an ordinary boy living in extraordinary circumstances. Written in a breezy, conversational style, the book is a quick read, for all its depth. Felix is engaging, appealing, and faces the most appalling adult dilemmas with grit and grace. His plight will be great fodder for discussion in the classroom or around the dinner table. His mother Astrid struggles with mental issues, but she loves her son. The reader’s heart breaks at least once a page. Middle readers (and their grown-ups) will see themselves in Felix, marvel at how thin the margin is separating them, and then hopefully have more empathy for those situated differently. And that’s a winning formula.
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My thanks to Tundra Books for providing a Review Copy of this book. All opinions provided herein are my own.
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