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by James M. Deem
Harpercollins, 2000
Review by Catherine Atkins on May 11th 2002

3 NBS of Julian Drew

In 3 NBs of Julian Drew, by James Deem, the title character is an abused teen boy so terrorized he can only communicate his true feelings in code. In his NBs(notebooks), Julian writes about his mentally ill stepmother, who has chosen him as the family scapegoat, his neglectful father, and his four siblings.  The rest of the family is subject to the woman's peculiar, penny-pinching ways, but Julian is the only one starved, humiliated, and locked away in the garage.

Julian 70V3s (loves) his real M (mother), and dedicates his NBs to her.  He 4AT3s (hates) his "stepnother" and wonders whether to K177 (kill) her or himself.  Deem challenges the reader to crack this code; no key is offered for translation.  More than halfway through the book, after Julian has met a caring teacher, found a job, and befriended a coworker, his code begins to fade and he is able to state for the world to hear:  I am an abused child.

It is a tribute to Deem's skill that by the time Julian is writing in clear, easy-to-follow sentences, we already feel we understand him.  The code, maddening at first, becomes clear through context.  3 NBs of Julian Drew begins this way:  "TO25 427WP".  Soon we realize that Julian is writing the date (Tuesday, October 25) and the time (4:27 PM).

Read 3 NBs of Julian Drew for the challenge, and you may find yourself sticking with it for the story, which is heartbreaking but ultimately hopeful.

 

© 2002 Catherine Atkins

 

Catherine Atkins is a writer and teacher from Northern California.