Hurrah! Susin Nielsen is back! And she’s just as good as I remember! Though there are a few familiar faces (Amanda, Cosmo, even Ambrose makes a cameo), Nielsen introduces us to new characters to love in her latest middle grade offering, such as the practical and psychoanalyzing best friend Phoebe; hapless, sweater-vest wearing, pun-filled Dudley Weiner; and of course Violet, the spiky-haired, Converse sneaker collecting, I-can’t-believe-she-just-did-that heroine of Dear George Clooney.
Violet’s mom has been on a bad dating streak ever since Violet’s father hightailed it to LA with his new wife, the younger, blonder actress Jennica (has a C list actress ever been better named?). But Dudley Wiener, who owns a bathroom supply shop and has a distressing yen for puns, has got to be the worst suitor yet. So Violet cooks up a plan that involves stake-outs, star maps, a golf cart, and of course, George Clooney. Along the way there is a cute boy from Winnipeg, Facebook bullying, and an incident with dog turds that will probably stir up some controversy. I can’t wait.
Violet is a great heroine, teetering on the edge of adolescence. She is not all that interested in school dances or boys, except for Jean-Paul, and really, how can anyone resist a boy who agrees to lend a hand with stake-outs and lends a girl his Winnipeg Winter-ready parka? Equally as winning is her best friend Phoebe, who is at Violet’s side through thick and thin, despite Violet’s touchy temper of late.
Everything I loved about Word Nerd is true of Dear George Clooney: snappy dialogue, lovable characters, great pacing, light tone but meaty and relevant subject matter. There are lots of middle grade books that address divorce, but this is the funniest one that comes to mind. Violet’s anger causes her to act out in some rather extreme ways, a fact that is not all that uncommon. Although the results are often comedic, Nielson is careful to acknowledge that there is nothing funny about divorce when you are the kid living through it. Violet is angry at her dad and can’t even begin to understand the choices he’s made, but above all she misses him and loves him. No matter how hard she tries, she also can’t help but love her half-sisters, the adorable blond spawn of Jennica, Lola and Lucy. It is this complexity, the painful truth combined with the laugh-out loud funny, that makes Nielsen’s fans love her.
Given the appearance of Amanda, Cosmo and Ambrose, I can only hope that there are more books to come set in Nielsen’s Vancouver. Though Word Nerd and Dear George Clooney are not companion books nor are they connected in any significant way, (such as Hilary McKay’s fabulous Casson Family books are, for example), I’m keeping my fingers crossed for more in a loose series. Are you listening, Tundra?
Dear George Clooney, Please Marry My Mom is available in hard cover this week from Tundra Books.