Wednesday, January 29, 2014

See You at Harry's

See You at Harry's
Jo Knowles
Candlewick, 2012     310 pgs     Grades 6-9
Realistic Fiction

Twelve-year-old Fern's family owns and operates a local family diner.She and her two older siblings help out at the restaurant and watch their three-year-old brother, Charlie.  Fern begins middle school and witnesses first hand the daily bullying her brother, Holden, endures and experiences a changing relationship with her male best friend.  Often resentful at having to watch her little brother, Fern is racked with grief and guilt as tragedy strikes and Charlie is killed in an accident.  Through Fern's eyes we watch as the family tries to deal with their feelings of responsibility and grief in different ways and eventually attempt to continue with their lives.  Fern's bullied brother finally accepts his homosexuality, comes out to the family, and stops allowing the bullies to have power over him.  The novel ends with a feeling of healing and hope and a hint that Fern and her friend are on the road to romance.

See you at Harry's is a tightly written book that deals with some powerful subject matter.  I had to stop reading it somewhere in the middle because it was making me too upset.  It seems like lately in half the books I read for kids at this level, someone dies.  The fact that there was a death didn't bother me so much.  The fact that it was a three-year-old did.  It was further upsetting that Fern was with Charlie when he was hit by the car.  So, although it was clearly not her fault, it was easy to feel empathy for her when she struggles with responsibility of his death.  Even harder for me to read was the struggle of Fern's brother with both the bullies and his acceptance of his sexuality.  I became very angry at the parents.  The father was so caught up in his restaurant, he wasn't paying attention to the family and the mother wasn't paying attention, period.  As a mother I wanted to help Holden and reassure him, let all three kids know the accident wasn't their fault, and give everyone hugs.  The mother in this book wasn't doing any of that.  A good book is one that makes you feel something, even if its feelings that aren't happy or comfortable.  Harry's is such a book.  Although the book is not particularly girlie, I would recommend it to girls over boys.  I often get middle school girls in the library who are looking for "sad books".  See You at Harry's would perfectly fit the bill.  Even though I didn't necessarily enjoy reading this book, it was written beautifully and was well worth my time.  And besides, how can you not love a book where all the children in a family are named after literary characters?

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