An emotional Canadian teenager is sent to live with a neighbor in this YA novel.
At 16, Nix Baines is a tightly wound ball of anxiety, anger, and pain. Her mother, a nurse, works hard and never has time for her, and her father isn’t in the picture. Nix’s emotions tend toward the histrionic; for instance, when her doctor recommends an ultrasound for unexplained abdominal pain, she imagines “her naked body on the operating table with her lower abdomen sliced open and her blood and organs oozing out.” She also has a friend, whom no one else can see or hear, named Paula. Nix’s attention is drawn to her elderly neighbor, Mrs. Langlois, who is, like Nix and her mother, a transplant to Canada from Trinidad and Tobago. When the rude and defiant teen becomes too hard for her mother to handle, she sends her to live with her grandmother—Mrs. Langlois, as Nix discovers to her astonishment. The old woman is troubled by the pains and indignities of age, has inflexible rules and habits, and, like Nix, is prone to overreaction and has an invisible friend—in her case, a cat named Oscar. As Nix tries to find equilibrium in her life, she begins flirting with an attractive teenager, a gas station worker named Claude; from Mrs. Langlois, she learns more about her family history and a vital message: “Stand up for your heart and spirit.” In her debut novel, Pacheco shows great sympathy for alienated youth and other outsiders, such as Beatrice Laird, a homeless Irish-Canadian man who works in Mrs. Langlois’ garden. In some cases, Pacheco explores these conditions in illuminating ways, as when Paula’s physical condition echoes Nix’s fears about herself. However, Nix’s emotions (self-pity, anger, shame) are so disproportionate—and her level of dissociation, represented by Paula, so pathological—that they go well beyond the usual heightened feelings of adolescence, making the relatively optimistic ending feel unlikely. Also, the book’s frequent preoccupation with morbidity and bodily effusions, including every detail of Mrs. Langlois’ nighttime incontinence, makes for unpleasant reading.
An empathetic coming-of-age story, overtaken by overwrought emotions and repulsive descriptions.