Tag Archives: Susin Nielsen

We Are All Made of Molecules

I had intended to read Susin Nielsen’s We Are All Made of Molecules before her The Reluctant Journal of Henry K Larsen, but didn’t. We can’t all be perfect. And that’s what this book is about, among many other things. Being perfect, or not, and whether that is important.

Ashley likes things to be just so; your body should be perfect, and your clothes too, and you should pick the most perfect friends, according to her criteria. Luckily her family is physically just right. That is, until her dad comes out as gay and moves out. Although not as far as this might suggest.

And then her perfect mum falls in love with Stewart’s dad, and they move in with them (with Ashley’s dad basically living in the garden shed…). Stewart is perfect too, but only according to his dad and his recently deceased mum. He is gifted, and quite possibly on the autistic spectrum, and would quite like to have a sister, except it slowly dawns on him that Ashley doesn’t want to be that sister.

Susin Nielsen, We Are All Made of Molecules

This is lovely and amusing, while also dealing with LGBT issues, families, friendship, bullying, abusive relationships and being clever, and courageous. Stewart’s bounciness is what makes things as right as they can be. Ever the optimist and kind and fair, albeit clueless on some fronts, he does his very best for everyone, despite Ashley working hard to stop him.

In the end they turn out to be quite good for each other, and both sets of parents are fully entitled to feel proud of Stewart and Ashley. You also learn how much other children have to offer, once you see past their less than perfect exteriors. It’s down to our molecules, really.

The Reluctant Journal of Henry K Larsen

‘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.

Susin Nielsen, The Reluctant Journal of Henry K Larsen

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.