‘Sometimes I wish Jesse was alive again, just so I could kill him.’ Henry is 13 and his brother Jesse is dead. That much we can work out from the beginning of Susin Nielsen’s The Reluctant Journal of Henry K Larsen. We just don’t know quite what the IT he refers to might have been, except that IT was bad and he’d like to kill the two years older Jesse for IT.
Life is tough for the three family members who are left. Henry’s mother is in hospital, and he and his dad have moved somewhere new. He feels like a loser, and when the obvious other loser in his new school insists on befriending him, he resists. For a while. And just as there was a bully in his old school, so there is in this one.
Their new and nosy neighbours also annoy him, but not as much as Cecil, the not very expensive psychologist he has to see every Friday, what with the man’s holey socks, greasy hair and writing-a-journal idea.
But slowly life goes on, and not necessarily the way he wanted or expected it to. We find out what happened to Jesse, and we grow to care about Henry’s new friends, ‘hopeless’ though they may seem. His grieving parents also have to move on, a little bit.
All this sounds very hard and very sad, and it is. The novel, however, is life affirming in every respect, and I hope other children and their families in similar circumstances will find some help in The Reluctant Journal of Henry K Larsen. There is plenty of humour alongside the sadness. And it’s worth keeping in mind that previously annoying people have an annoying habit of growing on you.