After being hired in the late 1980s to serve snacks to the cast and crew of the television series Degrassi Junior High, Vancouver author Susin Nielsen wrote a spec script for the show. The head writer liked what he read, and gave her a shot at writing an episode, which turned into 16 episodes—and launched her writing career. Nielsen went on to pen four tie-in novels to the show, and then struck out on her own with YA novels Word Nerd and Dear George Clooney, Please Marry My Mom. Her third title, The Reluctant Journal of Henry K. Larsen, will be published by Tundra.
“Writing the television tie-in novels really sparked an interest in writing original YA novels,” Nielsen explains. “But it took me 20 years to do that, since my TV writing career did quite well, so I always had an excuse not to. I definitely still keep a hand in television writing, too, since I love the work.”
The author says that The Reluctant Journal of Henry K. Larsen is “a bit of a departure for me, in the sense that my first two novels had more small elements of my own life in them.” The story centers on a teen whose older brother six months earlier took their father’s hunting rifle to school and shot a boy who had long been tormenting him—and then killed himself.
Nielsen found her inspiration for the plot in a line from another novel. “In Wally Lamb’s I Know This Much Is True, it is mentioned that one of the Columbine killers had a brother, and that really hit me in the gut,” she says. “I kept thinking about what it might be like to be the surviving sibling of someone involved in a horrible tragedy. So I decided to write this novel about a boy trying to pick up the pieces of his life and of his family.”
As did her earlier books, Nielsen’s latest novel balances the sad and the funny. “I can’t imagine writing a story without humor—it is an integral part of my fiction,” Nielsen explains. “This is a lot darker than my previous books, but there’s a fair amount of humor in the novel, as Henry starts a new school where no one knows what has happened in his life and he tries to fly under the radar. He ends up being befriended by kids who are sort of a band of misfits, and he finds a sense of community.”