By Author / Illustrator
Andersen Press Ltd
Felix Knutsson is nearly thirteen, lives with his mother and pet gerbil Horatio, and is brilliant at memorising facts and trivia. So far, pretty normal. But Felix and his mom Astrid have a secret: they are living in a van. Astrid promises it's only for a while until she finds a new job, and begs Felix not to breathe a word about it. So when Felix starts at a new school, he does his very best to hide the fact that most of his clothes are in storage, he only showers weekly at the community centre, and that he doesn't have enough to eat. When his friends Dylan and Winnie ask to visit, Felix always has an excuse.But Felix has a plan to turn his and Astrid's lives around: he's going to go on his favourite game show Who, What, Where, When and win the cash prize. All he needs is a little luck and a lot of brain power . . .Susin Nielsen deftly combines humour, heartbreak, and hope in this moving story about people who slip through the cracks in society, and about the power of friendship and community to make all the difference.
Susin Nielsen is adept at blending light and dark to create believable, quirky and multi-faceted characters who just need friendship, kindness and understanding to make their lives brighter. No Fixed Address is set in Vancouver and reflects the sad fact that rental units are expensive and scarce as older properties are demolished and inhabitants are pushed to the limits of poverty and despair. Nielsen casts her spotlight on the depression, deprivation and desolation endured by the peripatetic homeless who are without a comfortable refuge, the sofa surfers, those who are forced to live in temporary accommodation and those who find it difficult to stay afloat and keep a job- 'the hidden people who slip between the cracks of society'. Drawing on her experience of being an only child and growing up with a single parent mum, Nielsen imagines what it would be like for a child who didn't have stability like she had, but instead had to cope with 'a deeply flawed parent' and a growing realisation that they were unreliable. When we first meet almost 13 year old multi-ethnic Felix, he is reminiscent of Jamal from 'Q & A' (Slumdog Millionaire), a boy struggling with misfortune who is blessed with an aptitude for absorbing knowledge and relying on a long shot to fix everything. A framing device is also employed as he tells his story to the sympathetic Constable Lee. His family is unconventional and he has spent four months living in a Volkswagen Westfalia van without proper facilities. Felix has learned about the art of lying as practiced by his mother who insists upon him calling her Astrid as 'Mom is too hierarchical'. Their lives have been fragmented by traumatic past events, bad choices and unfortunate relationships. Astrid suffers from the 'slumps' and the reasons why are gradually revealed. Her son's one fear is that if the dreaded MCFD discover his situation and Astrid's erratic behaviour, he will be taken into care so he is desperate to stay under the radar and hide the truth from his friends, joker Dylan who believes in Poltergeists and aspiring journalist know-it-all Winnie who wants to tackle social injustice. Nielsen's expertly crafted plot and setting is evident in her descriptions of life in the van especially as winter sets in and Felix clings to his gerbil for comfort. No Fixed Address encourages empathy by highlighting a universal issue and clarifying that this situation can happen to anyone. Consequently young readers are taught that the homeless need help and support, not discrimination and judgement. 288 pages / Ages 11+ / Reviewed by Tanja Jennings, school librarian.
Suggested Reading Age 11+