How do you deal with tragedy? Can you ever get back to being normal? The Reluctant Journal of Henry K. Larsen addresses these questions through the journey of a 13-year-old boy whose life changes forever when his brother leaves one morning with his father’s hunting rifle. Henry is given a journal by a therapist and instructed to write in it. He does so at first reluctantly, but soon confides in his journal more often as he copes with the different stages of grief that he is experiencing. As the novel progresses, we see Henry trying to rebuild his life and come to terms with the events of the past. He uses the journal to express his feelings and to share insight into what happened and how to deal with the aftermath.
The Reluctant Journal of Henry K. Larsen provides important examples of coping with grief and bullying. While the novel is a very engaging and realistic read, there are some challenges to using it in the classroom. Mature themes and some mature language are interwoven into the story. I would recommend this book to be read by grade 8 students and up. I would definitely label this book a “mature read” because of the themes and events it presents. I strongly recommend teachers pre-read the book and see where it might fit into their programming. Excerpts of this journal could be used in lessons and as a read-alouds to promote anti-bullying initiatives and to get students to fully understand the damaging effects of bullying. It could also be used as a tool for learning to cope with anger, grief, and disappointment. When presented to an appropriate audience, this book could help students think about how tragedies like the one portrayed in the book might be prevented from becoming reality.
Jessica Crowley is a member of The Grand Erie Teacher Local.