Susin Nielsen is a seasoned YA author with a long list of wonderful books presented for a wide range of prizes both in the UK and internationally. She is also well known in her native Canada as a prolific writer for tv with a host of popular series under her belt.
Both of these contexts meet in Tremendous Things as the writing is brilliantly visual with wonderful dialogue while dripping with YA themes and stylistic choices. It’s appropriately angsty for YA readers to consider issues and problems and explore how they are solved in the fictional world. It’s also brilliantly hilarious with absolute laugh out loud moments that break tension and fuel raw enjoyment.
Wilbur considers himself a ‘loser’. He has few friends of his own age; he’s bullied and often speaks before he thinks. Embarrassing escapade followed by embarrassing escapade haunt him and make his social life troubling. And when he signs up for a French exchange student named Charlie, he’s pretty sure that he’s going to blow it. Well Charlie isn’t quite what he was expecting but Wilbur’s nothing if not resilient – he will make the best of this pretty awful situation.
As mentioned before Nielsen fills this narrative with laugh out loud moments – usually at Wilbur’s expense. But they are not cruel laughter-based moments – they are touching and poignant and sometimes gross – some fairly gross and very funny teenage boy humour is some of the most memorable writing I’ve experienced in the YA genre.
Wilbur lives with his two mothers – Mum and Mup who are collectively described as the Mumps. They are a wonderful pair of women. Struggling financially and filled with their own dreams, they act as a wonderful example for Wilbur – even though they sometimes unintentionally embarrass him. Cue the conversation about ‘Enthusiastic Consent’.
An important person in Wilbur’s life is his best friend and neighbour, Sal. Sal is 85 and Wilbur adores him. Another honourable mention has to be Wilbur’s dog Templeton, named for Wilbur’s favourite character in ‘Charlotte’s Web’. Wilbur is lovely, sensitive, a poet but frustrated by his lack of success with friends.
Tremendous Things is a beautiful book filled with beautifully drawn characters who will remain in your memories for a long time. And you will never be able to hear the song, Joy to the World, ever again without smiling.
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