Nix is your typical, verbally challenged teenage guy. In Jill MacLean’s Nix Minus One we are able to scratch this surface and uncover something much deeper. Through an almost lyrical journal of free-flowing poetry, we are introduced to the inner thoughts of Nixon Humbolt. He is a man of few words; his emotions clenched as tight as a fist. He’s not the most popular, most athletic, nor the most intelligent guy in school, but he’s pretty good at being average, which allows him to sink into the sidelines of his own life.
All of Nix’s free time and energy are poured into his father’s workshop; a sanctuary from his family. Here he is able to hone the delicate skills needed to craft some of the most elaborate pieces of woodwork. It is through this medium that he is able to harness the current of energy he otherwise safely contains within his own mind in his everyday life. Much like the stoic wooden boxes he creates, he has constructed around him a life that asks little of him and a cast of characters that at first seem to easily overshadow him. We meet Roxy, his wild older sister who’s fallen for Bryan Sykes (for better or worse), a politician’s son and all-around bad boy. We also meet Chase McCallum, Nixon’s best friend and top scorer for the local hockey team, and Blue, Chase’s bird-watching little sister.
As we get to know Nix, we learn there are quite a few things that make his heart pound, be it a fight with his sister or Loren Cody – the off limits girlfriend to his best friend, or even the hopeless mutt he comes to affectionately name “Twig”. As his relationships strengthen, so does his hold on his life and his ability to shape what he finds around him.
Nix’s life, like many, deals with issues including bullying, animal cruelty, first loves, underage drinking, family strife, and death. And just like in life, Nix experiences the highs and the lows of living as we learn what it means to grow up male, with the expectations that emotions are kept far from the surface.
Nix will make his way into your heart, as he did mine. From the complex family dynamic, his struggle to foster friendships with those around him (the family we create for ourselves) to his enemies (those who always seem to close in when we’re at our very weakest), Jill MacLean’s masterful treatment of all the characters results in a story the reader will find sweetly familiar and sadly poignant.
In Nix I have found myself and so many others. For allowing me in, I owe him a debt of gratitude.