Susan Nielsen creates beautiful characters: individuals you believe in and care about. Felix and his mother, Astrid, are homeless. We learn this from the get go. The rest is the revealing of what happened to get them to this place and what might happen next.
I got my digital copy of this book from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review. Here's the synopses from GoodReads:
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.
I've never been homeless, but I have met people who, through no fault of their own, have ended up there. Here in Vancouver, B.C., where the story is situated, there is a dearth of low income housing. It's becoming a profound problem.
Who's fault is it here that Felix and his mom are homeless? His biological father has no money and was never expected to contribute financially anyway. Some might blame Astrid who seems to have serious interpersonal problems that get in the way of her holding down a job. We readers soon learn that she has slumps and anger issues, and as funds get tighter, stops taking her medication because she can't afford it. She sounds a lot like my bipolar sister without the manic bits. What's for certain is that she loves Felix and he loves her.
There is a lot going on in this book.
Poverty, homelessness, single parent family, absent father, and mental health are explored. There is a bit of bullying going on as well.
On the other hand, we see so much of the best in people. Felix's two best friends, Winnie and Dylan, oddballs themselves, are as stalwart as they come. At one point Felix tries to shoplift and gets caught. The immigrant owners of the shop discover that he is hungry and end up feeding him. His teachers are kind and authentic. Even the police officer who Felix is telling his story to does her best to reassure him and ensure that everything works out for the best for him and his mom.
I have so many favourite parts in this book, but one of them is near the end of the book when the three friends are arguing over who's belief is most credible. Felix concludes to himself, “I get why Winnie believes in God. I get why Dylan believes in Bernard. I get why I wanted to believe in Mel. It can give a person comfort, feeling that something mysterious and otherworldly is looking out for you.
But now I’m learning to have faith in something new. Something my mom stopped having faith in a long time ago.
Part of what makes this book so pleasurable to read is that it's set in my home town. When Felix talks about the places where he and his mother park their van, Spanish Banks in particular, I know them well and even imagine exactly where they might be.
I enjoyed every bit of this satisfying story. I'm not particularly fond of reading on my device, yet had a hard time putting the book down and was compelled to keep coming back to finish it. I was so deeply engaged that my eyes leaked copiously for the last twenty five pages or so. Go buy this book, yours might too.