This was a fairly unchartered foray for me. Nolichuck is a YA novel aimed at 11-16-year-olds, but it’s one that adults can enjoy too. At least, this adult did. It's more than just a story about a bullied 14-year-old—it's also a bit of a history lesson about nineteenth-century Tennessee frontier life.
TJ is a rather unhappy teenager: his parents are divorced, and his younger sister, Natalie, of whom he’s so very fond, lives with his mother, while he lives with his successful historian father. He’s lonely, hates everything about school, has few close friends, doesn’t have much luck with girls, and the school bully just about tops off his misery. One day he stumbles across an unlocked drawer (usually firmly locked) in his father’s desk. Curiosity gets the better of him: a locked drawer means there’s something important in it. He finds a green book. A very plain, very ordinary little book: ordinary that is, until he opens it up and finds himself transported into the past in frontier-land, where he spends four days. In that time, he not only makes friends, but his adventure brings him into contact with robbers, killers, and beasts he would normally see in a zoo. Most importantly, TJ finds himself gaining confidence and maturity. The sharpened mental reflexes and survival instincts he is gaining from his extraordinary experiences will, he knows, help him cope with the unhappy twenty-first-century existence when he returns…if he returns. How on earth is he going to get back?
The author is obviously interested in and knowledgeable about the era; the authentic dialogue of frontier-living folk was a nice touch. I would have loved to have been able to press a button to hear it as well as read it! The historical aspect was interesting and aptly woven into the story. It was easy to feel desperately sorry for TJ—bullying in schools is an unpleasant, sometimes tragic feature of modern life—but it was also satisfying to accompany him on his journey to an improved strength of character and assertiveness.