Wheels is just an average teenager – until both of his parents are killed in a car accident. Suddenly, he has to learn to deal with living with his grandparents, his school friends treating him strangely and regular nightmares, all while coping with his all-consuming grief. Perhaps it’s not surprising, then, that Wheels goes a little off the rails. Pushing his best friends, Joey and Snake, and his grandparents away, he instead starts to spend time with life-hardened Barry and Tami. But are Wheels’s new friends really friends, and what will happen when his choices begin to catch up to him?

Wheels is a fiction tie-in to the television series ‘Degrassi Junior High’. Instead of creating a new story for the book series, Susin Nielsen instead has produced a novelisation of one of the television storylines. As such, the plot is familiar to fans of the original. However, Nielsen does a good job of writing the novel in such a way that a reader with no previous knowledge of ‘Degrassi’ would still be able to understand and enjoy it.

Television tie-ins – and especially novelisations of actual episodes – tend to be less than stellar examples of the literary arts. I was pleasantly surprised by Wheels, however. It’s a solid YA novel that deals with death and loss with empathy. I personally struggled to read about certain aspects of Wheels’s behaviour, but that was not an issue with the writing so much as his disregard for the people around him, and for his grieving grandmother in particular.

There were a couple of things I disliked about the book, however. Twice, Wheels is approached and placed in threatening situations by predatory older men. Once might have been okay, if dealt with appropriately, but twice makes me feel like the author has an agenda. In contrast, she portrays the relationship between Barry and Tami – which is implied to be sexual in nature – as being perfectly okay, despite the fact that he is eighteen and she only fourteen, and a survivor of previous sexual abuse at that.

Still, despite my reservations, Wheels could have been a lot worse.