Review Detail

Kids Fiction 1599
The Boxcar Children in a Van in Vancouver
Overall rating 
 
5.0
Plot/Characters/Writing Style 
 
5.0
Illustrations/Photos (if applicable) 
 
N/A
Felix Knuttsen and his single mother Astrid move around a bit in Vancouver because Astrid finds it hard to keep a job after her career teaching art founders. After the death of her mother, Felix's Mormor, it's been hard for the two to maintain homes as well. When her latest boyfriend, Abelard, decides to go to India, Felix is glad to see him go, but it means that the only place he has to live is the Westfalia van after briefly landing with a friend, Soleil. Since it's August, they take a little vacation, and then Astrid tells Felix he can go to any school he wants. Using a fair amount of subterfuge, she gets him into the French Immersion School. This is great, since Felix is half Swedish and one quarter Haitian and French, and since his former best friend Dylan goes to the school and the two still get along. Living in the van requires a lot of planning and sacrifices, from showering at a community center and eating meals out of cans to carefully crafted stories about his movements. Felix makes an unlikely friend in the driven Winnie, who is very good at languages but not so good at social interactions. The three work on articles for the school paper, and the fact that Felix excels at the t.v. game show Who, What, Where emerges. He tries out for a junior edition and makes it. Since the grand prize is $25,000, he hopes he can win so that he and Astrid can get their lives back on track. As the competition approaches, Felix's life starts to unravel very quickly. What will it take for things to turn around for the Knuttsons?
Good Points
This had a tremendous amount of appealing, well fleshed out characters. Mormor, although her appearance was very brief, was a fantastic grandmother. Felix's description of his mother and her problems is interesting because it shows how much understanding and smarts he needs to have just to get himself clothed and fed. It's also a balanced description-- she's not a great mother, but she's not the worst, either. I feel like many of my students have similar backgrounds. The details about living in a van will appeal to students who have nice, comfortable homes, and will perhaps resonate with those who don't as well. Dylan and Winnie are good friends, and the teachers and social workers are all concerned and helpful. Even Soleil, who is ill used by Astrid, is very supportive. I liked the inclusion of Vancouver as almost another character, and the game show appearance is worked in convincingly. It is a book that will make many readers grateful-- I know enough to NEVER take baths for granted!

This has many social hot button issues, lessening the impact of Felix's predicament somewhat. That's very on trend, though, and all of the problems addressed need to be found in middle grade literature, maybe just not all in one book!

This will be a popular book with readers who enjoy problem novels with a slightly more upbeat tone, like Arnold's Far From Fair, Van Draanen's The Secret Life of Lincoln Jones, or Pla's The Someday Birds. The cover is very appealing, and this has a Boxcar Children vibe with the addition of the suspense of Felix's precarious situation. Nicely done.
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