Nix Minus One by Jill MacLean

With the lengthening days I’ve been enjoying spending more lovely time in the garden.  But the other evening the storms of winter returned.  So I sat down to read Nix Minus One by Jill MacLean.  I couldn’t put it down.  A free verse novel, Nix Minus One is a powerful and seamless narrative that doesn’t shy away from difficult issues.

Jill MacLean is a seasoned writer who perfectly captures the voice of the socially awkward fifteen year old protagonist, Nix Humbolt.  Nix would rather fly under the radar at school than confront his tormentors who’ve nick-named him “Fatty Humbolt.” Most often, Nix takes refuge in his father’s wood working shop.  There he creates beautiful wooden boxes, tables, and bird houses for Blue, the younger sister of a class senior and hockey star. Nix may not stand up for himself, but does his best to care for a neighbor’s neglected dog, whom he names Twig.  And he will fight dragons if it would keep his sometimes acerbic sometimes wise older sister Roxy from harm. Things take a turn for the worse once Roxy starts dating Bryan Sykes. Nix tries to warn Roxy that Sykes is a player who’s about to dump her but he is unable to stop his sister’s downward spiral.

MacLean’s poems capture moments of  joy and pain equally well. Nix describes hiking the barrens with Twig, “At the crest, where the brook/meets the edge/and falls,/I straighten, panting,/ and turn around./Breath catches in my throat. The sun’s sinking over Labrador,/the gulf waxed gold.” And, later Nix is in the workshop ” thinking how I’ve dovetailed/guilt to grief–“.

In the end, it is Twig’s faithfulness and Blue’s persistence that help Nix move beyond putting one foot in front of the other  to see that light can “shiver on water.”  I’d highly recommend Nix Minus One. Chalk up another win for Pajama Press!

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