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
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
is a writer and teacher from Northern California.