Nix Minus One Reviews

Kirkus Reviews

“Writing in free verse from the perspective of 15-year-old Nixon “Nix” Humboldt, acclaimed Canadian author MacLean (Home Truths, 2010, etc.) presents an intriguing coming-of-age story set in rural Newfoundland and centered on the love-hate relationship between siblings.

NixMinusOneQuiet and a bit of a loner, Nix takes respite from the taunting of class bullies and from bearing the occasional brunt of his gregarious older sister Roxy’s wrath by helping out in his father’s woodworking shop, where the various boxes, frames and birdhouses he creates help to express the inner feelings he often has difficulty verbalizing. Sixteen-year-old Roxy, on the other hand, drives her teenage angst outward by pursuing the most popular (though shady) senior in high school, experimenting with alcohol and repeatedly defying her parents’ wishes….And yet the siblings’ deep-seated love for each other cannot be denied when tested by their overprotective parents, immature classmates or in the wake of grave tragedy.

Well-crafted and intense, an engrossing family drama in which both young and old learn what it means to grow up. (Verse novel. 12 & up)”

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Publishers Weekly

“… MacLean (The Present Tense of Prinny Murphy) writes in short free-verse chapters that read like prose stripped of all unnecessary words. An introvert, Nix watches in dismay as his tempestuous sister flirts with drugs, alcohol, older boys, and risky social scenes: “I thought the yellow sun/ rose over the mountains and set over the sea/ on my sister Roxanne./ Then she hit puberty./ Head-on collision.” More observer than participant at home and school, Nix comes alive in his father’s woodworking shop: “I pick up the dovetail saw,/ cut into the sockets, chisel out the waste…. and by now I’ve forgotten/ anyone’s watching.” Writing with careful, evocative language, MacLean explores love in myriad forms: Nix’s concern for a neighbor’s abused dog that he longs to rescue, his crush on one girl and budding friendship with another, Roxy’s affection for her brother, and his family’s grief over a devastating tragedy.”

School Library Journal

“Maclean’s novel in verse has a hypnotic rhythm that pulls readers into the mind of 15-year-old Nix. Formerly known as ‘Fatty Humbolt,’ he is struggling with his crush on Loren Cody, the girlfriend of the best player on the hockey team, and his love-hate relationship with his older sister, Roxy. With her ‘Vampire Red’ hair, endless stream of boyfriends, and rebellious energy, Roxy is the polar opposite of Nix, who likes to fade into the background and thinks it’s hard to talk to anyone, let alone members of the opposite sex. Nix finds solace and self-expression in his woodworking. Then Roxy falls for Bryan Sykes, a popular but notorious cad and politician’s son, and Nix is forced to come out of his shell and find his voice. The poems successfully capture the cadences of modern teenage speech and behavior in unadorned language. The sparse verse also provides the perfect narrative voice to express Nix’s taciturn strength. Readers used to a diet of cliché-ridden YA fiction will enjoy this refreshing take on the teenage plight, and, although the ending is particularly painful and poignant, the hard-won hopefulness of Nix’s growth will linger with them long after the poetry ends.”

Booklist

“MacLean’s free verse style mirrors 15-year-old protagonist Nix Humbolt’s quiet, unassuming nature: “The first time / I came across the word / introversion / was the first time / I recognized myself. Like, / there was a category / for me.” At the heart of the novel, which is set in a tiny Newfoundland village, is Nix’s complex, push-pull relationship with his older, rebellious sister, Roxy, and the tender bond he forms with a neglected guard dog. To deal with the challenges of both, Nix takes refuge in his father’s woodworking studio, channeling ragged emotions he can’t verbally express into smooth boxes, picture frames, and tables. But when tragedy upends Nix’s life, it takes a special girl named Blue—and a special dog—to help him confront reality. Nix’s immediate first-person narration offers astute observations (“Is an adult just a teenager with a layer of veneer?”), and YAs who are drawn to contemporary fiction and verse novels won’t want to miss this poignant Canadian import.
Ann Kelley

Quill & Quire

“…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.

…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.
—Melanie Fishbane

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Canadian Materials

“I enjoy the succinct nature of novels in verse. The format does, however, require careful and evocative word choices. The author must say a lot with a little, or the reader is left with too many gaps to fill and too little direction to make sense from. Jill MacLean successfully meets the challenges of the format of a free verse novel in her new book Nix Minus One. The powerful, moving story is told from the first person perspective of 15-year-old grade 9 student, Nixon Humbolt.

…The complexities of Maclean’s novel add depth and believability to the story events and the multi-faceted characters she has created. As the flawed and troubled Nix lurches from one situation to the next, the reader is constantly hoping for him to emerge with happiness and success. At his core, he is a brave and caring individual hampered by insecurities, a distinct lack of confidence, and limited ability to verbalize his feelings.

Despite experimenting with a new format, MacLean has produced another wonderful novel. She is to be applauded for respecting her readership and refusing to shy away from difficult topics. As mentioned, this book tackles sensitive issues and oftentimes delivers powerful and upsetting punches. Nix Minus One is a book for mature readers, but those readers will be rewarded with a story well told. Highly Recommended.
Gregory Bryan

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Canadian Children’s Book News

At 15, Nix Humbolt is taller and leaner than in his “Fatty Humbolt” days, but he still keeps a low profile at school. He finds refuge in his father’s workshop where he builds intricate boxes and tables – and avoids arguments with his older sister Roxy. When Roxy starts dating Bryan Sykes, Nix knows he’s bad news – but what can he do? The only battles he ever fights are on his Xbox – until the day he finds the nerve to fight for Swiff Dunphy’s neglected dog. When things start to spin out of control, this dog might just be the one who saves him.

Award-winning author Jill MacLean uses verse to tell an emotionally resonant story of an extremely introverted teenager. Nix still thinks of himself as the bullied fat boy, and he struggles to find his voice. He’s fiercely loyal and intelligent, and has a strong sense of justice, but when it comes to acting on it, he feels helpless. The one area where he can do something is to take care of the neglected and abused dog, whom he calls Twig.

While never explicitly stated, MacLean draws a subtle and effective connection between Roxy and Twig in Nix’s mind. The more out of control Roxy becomes, the more desperate Nix is to save Twig. Just when he thinks he’s failed at that, too, it’s Roxy who surprisingly gives him the strength he needs to fight for what matters to him. Nix Minus One is also a story about transformation, and MacLean skilfully parallels Twig’s transformation with Nix’s. As Twig transforms from a skittish, unhappy animal to a happy, healthy dog, Nix gradually is able to come out of his shell and emerge as a stronger, more confident boy.

MacLean’s books demand a lot from their readers, and Nix Minus One is no exception. Her characters are extremely authentic, and they will make the reader root for everything to turn out OK. The story is complex and engaging, and the deep themes make this an excellent novel for study and discussion.”
Rachel Seigel

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Open Book Toronto Sizzling Summer Selections

“In Nix Minus One, Nix Humboldt is an introverted teen who is finding his way through the turmoil of adolescence. He is challenged to come into his own by a number of situations in his life: his discovery of a dog who is being mistreated by her owner and his determination to befriend and save her; his burgeoning friendship with Chase and his sister Blue; his need to process and come to terms with an unimaginable tragedy that shakes he and his family to their very core. As Nix struggles to find his voice, MacLean soothes us with the gorgeousness of her writing, the spare but perfect free verse of this unforgettable gem.”
—Lisa Doucet

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Open Book Toronto

“Nix Minus One blew me away…I loved the characters. From Nix to Roxy to the girl named Blue – no character was flat and typical. The story was multi-leveled and made me care about all aspects of it.

…Jill Maclean knows how to twist her readers with some pretty raw emotions. If I could, I’d put this book in the hands of every teenager I met. Buy this book for your favorite teen for Christmas. Trust me, it’s way better than the underwear and socks you’re thinking about getting them.”
—Kim Firmston

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CBC Summer Book Panel 2013

Children’s Book Panel member Ken Setterington appeared on CBC Radio’s The Next Chapter today with co-panel member Michele Landsberg. The two shared their selections for this summer’s reading list. Setterington’s YA choice? Nix Minus One.

“It’s a fast read, just a good family story, but a story about a young man finding out who he really is. A strong book.”

Click here to listen to the full segment. Skip to 11:27 for the full Nix Minus One review.

Atlantic Books Today

“This meticulously-crafted novel-in-verse is as finely-honed as one of Nix’s own woodworking projects. MacLean tackles many serious issues, artfully weaving together the different elements of Nix’s story into a poignant portrait of one boy’s journey toward acceptance of himself and the curveballs life throws at him….While Nix struggles to find his voice, MacLean’s impeccable poetry—spare, evocative, and affecting—enables readers to enter into his mind and heart. And they will be amply rewarded by the experience.”

Find the full review here on page 20

The Montreal Gazette

“Poetry, at its best, has the power to evoke a maximum of emotion with a minimum number of words. As such, it’s a fitting tool for an author whose novel revolves around a teenage boy best described as tongue-tied and introverted — and whose life goes into overdrive when the usual changes that accompany puberty are added to those of a family with its share of secrets.

Nova Scotia’s Jill MacLean has set her most recent novel in Bullbirds Cove, a small town in Newfoundland that used to be home to 37 families but where, now that “the codfish are gone from the sea (and) groundfishing closed years ago,” only 23 families remain — including the Humboldt family. Fifteen-year-old Nixon (better known as Nix) and his 16-year-old sister, Roxy, are part of that family. In telling their story, MacLean uses free verse — which might sound off-putting to some, but actually turns out to be a great way to put into words what Nix thinks and has trouble saying. It also makes for a well-paced story that will leave readers thoroughly engaged with the characters, and probably reaching for a tissue or two before getting to the final page.”
Bernie Goedhart

The Halifax Chronicle Herald

“MacLean, the award-winning author of The Nine Lives of Travis Keating, The Present Tense of Prinny Murphy and Home Truths, has a serious track record for developing wonderfully drawn, multi-layered teen characters and this book is no exception. This is the Bedford author’s first book done in free verse, however, which seems to help give it an extra layer of emotional resonance.

…MacLean tackles many issues — bullying, family relationships, death, insecurity, animal cruelty, first romance, toxic relationships — in convincing fashion in this wonderful new novel, as finely crafted as the intricate boxes that Nix takes pride in making in his dad’s woodworking shop in their little Newfoundland village.”
Pam Sword

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The Winnipeg Free Press

“JILL MACLEAN of Bedford, N.S., has written many young adult books, but her latest, Nix Minus One (Pajama Press, 296 pages, $15 paperback), is an exceptional novel that is not to be missed. Written in free verse, it explores the life and emotions of Newfoundlander Nixon Humbolt (Nix) between his 14th and 16th years.

…Maclean’s free verse is poetic and evocative, but compelling. Written for ages 13 and up, this is a powerful novel, hitting hard on contemporary life.”
Helen Norrie

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The Calgary Herald

“Nix used to be ‘the fat kid’ and although he has lost the weight, he endures bullying every day.  Written in free verse, this sensitive story follows Nix as he deals with all life has to throw at him; his desire to help an abused dog, frustration in trying to protect an older sister heading for disaster, an old infatuation and a blossoming new friendship. Beautifully descriptive, with some mature content, this book is recommended for mature readers ages 12 to 16.”
—Barbra Hesson

CanLit for LittleCanadians

“…Nix Minus One shows off Jill MacLean’s characteristic strong plotting that helped win countless awards and nominations for her other books: The Nine Lives of Travis Keating (Fitzhenry & Whiteside, 2008), The Present Tense of Prinny Murphy (Fitzhenry & Whiteside, 2009) and Home Truths (Dancing Cat Books, 2010).  She creates characters who would be considered ordinary, i.e., less than perfect, and has them deal with troubling, even tragic circumstances.  Roxy, Nix, Blue, and even Mom and Dad, are more reflective of Jill MacLean’s readership than the sterile but beautiful people of popular shows and movies.  By making Nix Minus One‘s characters into “real” people who make some wise decisions, some incredibly poor choices and some that fortuitously leave no permanent scars, Jill MacLean fosters understanding and empathy.

I would like to recognize Nix Minus One as Jill MacLean’s first foray into the novels-in-verse genre, heralding a new achievement in writing for her.  While her writing is strong and fluid but laced with vulnerability, Nix Minus One demonstrates the one-two punch nature of novels in verse:  the author’s word choice and sentence structure are now enhanced with the form of the writing.  The structure of the verse can intensify the text, or suggest confusion, weakness or apathy, though Jill MacLean always chooses wisely, never overworking her form or content.  So, while the title suggests a subtraction or loss, I believe Nix Minus One demonstrates that Jill MacLean has found the literary means, i.e., free verse, to add to the total experience of one of her stories.  As an equation, that would read,

Nix – 1 =  Jill MacLean2
—Helen Kubiw

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Sal’s Fiction Addiction

“…In an interview Jill Maclean she said she writes character driven books. She hit the nail on the head with that statement, given the memorable characters she creates here…Nix, Roxy, Bryan, Twig, Chase, Loren and Blue, and Nix’s parents. Set in Newfoundland, this is his story about family, conflict, friendship, death, secrets, a dog and a budding romance. The characters who people the pages are expertly drawn: flawed, remarkable, and redemptive for the most part.

I love them for many reasons…their vulnerability, their strength, their unparalleled concern for others. Well, not Bryan…not at all, but there has to be a villain; or the men who own Twig and treat her so abominably. Sorrow, and an inability to deal with it, tears at the Humboldt family which is stoic, secretive, and who all have reasons for doing what they do…”

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Rachel’s Reading Timbits

“…Nix’s story is one of transformation. Nix is an introvert. He finds relationships difficult, and is more at home expressing himself through the things he makes. A connection he does form his to his neighbour’s neglected (and possibly abused) dog, whom he arranges to start walking every day. With Twig, Nix can do what he can’t do for his sister Roxy. Nix knows that Roxy’s relationship is toxic, but she won’t listen to him. The more out of control she becomes, the more desperate he becomes to protect Twig.

What I loved most about this book is the the way that Nix evolves.In the same way that Twig transforms from a sad and frightened animal, Nix transforms from a sad and timid boy into the knight-slaying dragon he wishes he could be. Nix finds strength he didn’t know he possessed- the strength to fight for what matters and protect what he loves no matter how difficult or at how high a cost.

…Both of these books [Nix Minus One and Counting Back from Nine]  were impossible to put down, and left me thinking about them long after I finished reading. They are emotionally engaging and thought-provoking, and the verse format asks readers to read between the lines and fill in the blanks. They deal with loss, and secrets, and figuring out who you are, and are highly accessible and appealing teenage reads.”
—Rachel Siegel

Maria’s Mudpuddle

“Another powerful novel by the author of The Nine Lives of Travis Keating, Home Truths and The Present Tense of Prinny Murphy.   Jill Maclean’s new novel is written in verse, and like her other novels, deals with some heavy issues.  I couldn’t put this book down, and I read it in one night.  Nix, the main character, was an easy person to relate to. I found myself frustrated with him, and at the same time I could totally understand his worry, and his reluctance in challenging his older sister.   It’s common for siblings to cover for each other, when one of them is breaking the rules.  But that doesn’t mean the other person doesn’t worry.  And as long as no one gets hurt, these secrets can remain a secret.  But unfortunately, that’s not what happens for Nix and his sister…

…I loved the point of view.  I loved the characters.  I loved this book.”
Maria Martella

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For Those Who Know

“Beautiful verse, weirdly romantic, fantastic setting in Maritime Canada, violent, redemptive, sad, uplifting. I really loved this. I especially love the brilliantly simple cover and the woodworking motif that permeates the book. The cover is TEXTURED! Check it out!”

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Sheryl McFarlane

“MacLean’s poems capture moments of  joy and pain equally well. Nix describes hiking the barrens with Twig, “At the crest, where the brook/meets the edge/and falls,/I straighten, panting,/ and turn around./Breath catches in my throat. The sun’s sinking over Labrador,/the gulf waxed gold.” And, later Nix is in the workshop ” thinking how I’ve dovetailed/guilt to grief–”.

In the end, it is Twig’s faithfulness and Blue’s persistence that help Nix move beyond putting one foot in front of the other  to see that light can “shiver on water.”  I’d highly recommend Nix Minus One. Chalk up another win for Pajama Press!”
—Sheryl McFarlane

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Lost in a Great Book

Nix Minus One by the remarkable Jill MacLean tells us about Nix, a boy in rural Nova Scotia who is trying to find his place in the world. Nix used to be ‘the fat kid’ – the one that everyone teased – and while he may have lost weight, he still faces his bully every day. Things are a little better for Nix, but he still feels set apart from his peers, preferring to work in his father’s wood shop or to slowly build a connection with a neighbour’s abused dog instead of doing things with his classmates. Nix is a normal teen with realistic responses; when catastrophe strikes, he deals with his anger and grief in completely logical ways although it’s painful to read. MacLean writes teen boys incredibly well – last year’s Red Maple selection, Home Truths from the perspective of a school bully was equally as poignant, but with Nix she has gone even further, creating a wounded boy who seeks friendship and solace in alternative ways because he has been so badly burned before. The book is also written in free verse, lending a sense of lyricism to the narrative, and you quickly fall into Nix’s thoughts. There’s more to the story than just this plotline, but the bullying is an integral part of who Nix has become.”

Amy’s Marathon of Books

“There are so many things I love about this book. The characters of Blue, Twig, and Nix. Reading the descriptions about Nix’s intricate woodworking. The complex relationship between Nix and his sister Roxy. Nix Minus One is an authentic portrayal of hardship and grief while still maintaining a sense of hope that will leave the reader feeling uplifted.”

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Books YA Love

“A dog, beaten and ignored.
A girl, risking and reckless.
A boy who must step out of his safe-place to save them…

I lived in Newfoundland in early grade school (on a now-closed Air Force base), so I have a strong mental picture of the isolated small coastal town that Roxy longs to escape, where Nix’s solitary ways are known to everyone, where a story can never be untold.

Request this novel-in-verse from your local library or independent bookstore; they might have to order it (Pajama Press is a small Canadian firm, not one of the “Big 5″), but it’s so worth waiting for!

Have you ever felt like the only person who could fix a situation?”

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Student Review

“Hello I am Joshua I am a grade eight student in Barrie. The book I have read is Nix Minus One by Jill MacLean. The reason I read this book is because I think Jill Maclean is a very good author and I have read many of her books and really enjoyed them. This book is a very entertaining book that makes you want to keep reading because you get so caught up in the emotions of some of the characters. The main character Nixon, goes through a couple of the biggest changes in his life. Nixon is a 15 year old guy who isn’t very popular and his sister Roxanne, known as Roxy is falling for one of the most dangerous guys in school. Bryan Sykes is known to be a drug dealer. Nix would do anything for his sister, but when Roxy doesn’t come home from her friend’s party Nix get very worried. Nix only has a couple friends. Chase McCallum and his sister who they call Blue who seem to be everywhere in the book but Blue is mostly in the barrens bird watching. In conclusion I believe that this book is really entertaining for people who enjoy realistic fiction because I really got attached to Nix and his family. I think readers would find some similiarities of this story to their own lifestyle and overall it’s just a good read. I would rate this a 9.5/10.”
Joshua, Student Reviewer

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