Quill and Quire

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Nix Minus One

by Jill MacLean

Novels written in verse are difficult to execute well. On one hand they have a tendency toward melodrama; on the other they showcase poetry’s inherent ability to communicate flashes of thought, emotion, and experience. For YA novels in which the protagonists are often dealing with difficult situations, balance comes from allowing the characters to emerge authentically without forcing their voices to fit the format’s mould. Nix Minus One achieves this balance.

Though he’s now tall and lean, 15-year-old Nix struggles to lose his “Fatty Humbolt” elementary school identity, make friends, and prevent his older sister, Roxy, from self-destructing. Nix keeps to himself, channelling his frustrations into woodworking and caring for Twig, a neighbour’s dog. But when Twig is endangered and Roxy gets wrapped up in a toxic relationship, Nix is forced to fight against his introverted tendencies and stand up for those he loves. 

Author Jill MacLean effectively crafts the verse to create Nix’s voice and uses imagery to convey emotion. Nix’s acerbic tone when faced with uncomfortable situations (such as when he receives his report card or when Roxy asks him to install a lock on her door) reveals his struggle to fit in and his frustration over the differences between the person he wishes he could be, the person people expect him to be, and the person he truly is.

While Roxy’s downward spiral feels a little contrived, MacLean tempers this with Nix’s protective feelings toward her. The novel’s strength comes from the authenticity of Nix’s emotional evolution, Twig’s parallel development from a sad and lethargic dog to an active and loveable one, and the complexity of the brother/sister relationship. This is an absorbing, emotionally resonant book.