Title: No Fixed Address
Author: Susin Nielsen
Cover illustrator: Kate McKendrick Grove
Publisher: Andersen Press
Genre: Older children’s/middle grade fiction, Contemporary
Book format: Paperback
Description: Felix Knutsson and his mom Astrid have a secret: they are living in a van. Astrid promises it’s only till she finds a new job, and begs Felix not to breathe a word. So when Felix starts at a new school, he does his best to hide it from his friends, even though his home has some serious downsides, like no privacy, heating , space and – worst of all – no bathroom.
But Felix has a plan to turn his and Astrid’s lives around. All he needs is a little luck and a lot of brain power…
*Free copy provided by publisher for review…
Review: I’m not sure what to think after reading this book, on the one hand it’s well written and easy to get into with a story that on the surface I really enjoyed, but on the other hand there are some flaws and a bit of a strange ending that leave me with mixed feelings after reading this. Felix lives with his mum Astrid, but after the two are evicted from their latest apartment, Astrid acquires a van and decides to move the two of them into it, just until things get better and she can secure another home. Living in a van is fun at first, but as the weeks go by and Felix has to go back to school after the holidays, life with no permanent home gets more and more difficult.
The book is easy to get into right away and I initially enjoyed the story. It begins with Felix speaking to a police constable after he and his mum have been arrested. When asked what happened, he starts to recount his tale. Set in Vancouver and told from Felix’s point of view the story is quite a compelling read. I enjoyed finding out about how Felix and his mum ended up in the van and how difficult life was increasingly getting. I liked how certain aspects of homelessness were shown, like not having their own toilet or how Felix was trying to keep the truth of his home life a secret while at school. The story felt like it was going somewhere and even though Astrid had her own problems, which impacted on the story, I felt like this would all resolve at the end of the tale in a happy way.
The ending, however, is one that I just didn’t enjoy and although it was a satisfying end to Felix’s story, with things resolving neatly and Felix’s life being fine, I did feel that the ending was too simple, too easy and convenient, almost fairy-tale like, considering the complex issues of poverty and hoomelessness that the book brings up. I’m all for happy endings and always want a happy ending in a book, but this just didn’t feel as happy as it could have been…I won’t give away any spoilers, but the ending felt too strange, and overall I just didn’t enjoy the way the two characters, Astrid and Felix, end up, especially towards each other. Rather than growing after going through the plot, as you’d expect characters to do, Astrid’s character remains the same, like she never learns from her mistakes, and I don’t like the way Felix ends up, seemingly more angry towards his mum the further the story progresses with no real resolve with that even at the end. Maybe I’m thinking that this book should be deeper than it is, considering it’s endorsed by Amnesty International, but the ending and the plot feel like they don’t do a good enough job of portryaing homelessness and poverty and I’m also left confused about which age category this book is actually for!
Felix is supposed to be nearly thirteen years old, and he deals with a lot of grown up issues including a parent with some complex mental health problems, and yet his narrations feel more like that of a younger child’s, he doesn’t seem all that mature especially towards the end. The book is aimed at pre-teens (middle grade children) which makes the narration and the simplicity of the tale fit this age range, but there are aspects of the story that feel like they belong more in a YA (teen) book, like brief mentions of or allusions to sex, abuse, mild drug use and even an allusion of masturbation. It’s just a brief allusion but not something that I’d expect in an average middle grade age book! As a result you end up with a strange book that feels fun and has an overly happy sounding plot for children, but with a more gritty and deeper issues you’d expect from a teen/YA novel.
I really feel in two minds when it comes to this book. It feels like such a well written book in the way it flows easily and makes you feel compelled to keep reading. I enjoyed some of the more humerous moments as well as the gameshow idea, and the whole story does feel like it’s building to a great conclusion. But although the ending is a generally positive one it just feels too simple and I’m not sure what to think after reading it. Being a book that features homelessness, and is even endorsed by Amnesty International for featuring this, I do feel disappointed that more wasn’t done to show the true affects of this issue. It feels as though there are big stereotypes on the types of people who end up homeless, and reading the author notes didn’t help dispel this worry, as the stereotype of a ‘flawed parent’ (author’s words) are reinforced (ie that it’s damaged parents that seem to always make mistakes). The story also has an almost fairy tale ending for Felix with what happens and although I’m all for a happy ending (and expected one) I can’t help but feel that it was just way too convenient and not something that any child living in poverty (or homeless) could relate to if they read this.
Maybe I’m thinking too much because I have experienced living in poverty, for a time, when I was growing up. I do think this book will be enjoyed by many and it does give some basic insight into these deep issues of poverty and homelessness. But I don’t think it does enough to show what it’s really like. And as I said, I don’t like the clear stereotype on what sort of people end up living in poverty. I don’t know if the author actually spoke to anyone who’s been through poverty before writing this, but it seems like such a missed opportunity to show more of what it’s really like, the real impact on kids minds and how kids dealing with parents like Astrid often become much more mature, etc., while still retaining an ultimately uplifting ending.
Overall I do think the story is interesting and compelling and I’m sure many will enjoy reading it. But for me personally, it just didn’t do enough and I just don’t like the way Felix and Astrid’s relationship ends up at the end. I’d still say it’s worth a read for people who know nothing about homelessness/poverty, but I’m not sure it’s a book I’d want to recommend given the stereotypes.
What do you think of this book? What about books that feature poverty of homelessness? Let me know what you think in the comments below 🙂