Title: See You at Harry's
Author: Jo Knowles
Publisher: Candlewick Press, 2012.
Pages: 224 p.
Source: Library Ebook
Lessons From a Dead Girl and Jumping Off Swings, I was fairly confident what to expect from Jo Knowles' latest offering See You at Harry's--good writing, good characters, good story. Now, I did get a bit weepy at the end of Jumping off Swings, so I should have been prepared better. But I wasn't and foolishly read See You at Harry's in the car on my ride back from Thanksgiving. Where I had to STOP reading because I did not want to have to explain to my husband or 3/4 children (I don't think the 16 month old would have cared) why I was sobbing like a baby which was about to happen if I had continued reading. I had to wait until we were home and everyone was safe in bed and I was safely squirreled away where I would not have to answer any awkward questions. So, my advice is to A) don't read this in a car with your children and B) have a box of tissues handy.
The story opens with 8 year old Fern home sick from school because she had let Random Smith, a boy who was dirty and hungry and sick all the time, have a sip of her milk. Even though she is so sick she loves being at home with just her mom and not her older siblings. She loves her mom's undivided attention. She soon discovers that this will be the last time her mom's attention is ever whole again when her parents announce they are having a new baby. Fast forward four years later and Fern is best friends with Random Smith, entering middle school, and dealing with her 3 year old brother Charlie. Charlie is dirty and gross--a typical 3 year old boy--and Fern has very little patience for him even though he totally idolizes her. Fern's older sister Sara is having a gap year because she couldn't get into a good college, but she's being forced to work at her parents' restaurant so she's not much help with Charlie. Fern's older brother Holden is in his first year of high school, a difficult place to be when you are just coming out of the closet. Fern's Dad is always working late hatching some scheme to get more customers to the restaurant (Harry's) and her mom spends more and more time meditating in her office. So watching Charlie falls to Fern more and more often.
I was expecting the big drama to be about Holden. I thought that the irritating bullying on the bus would escalate to something bigger. Instead, Knowles completely blindsided me. Completely. I was not expecting it at all. I don't want to spoil anyone, because I want you all to go out and read this now, so just trust me when I say that actual sobbing was involved. Not weepy "oh that's too bad" but this is a book tears, but actual can't breathe or see the words anymore sobbing. This review is actually a bit difficult to write, as evidenced by how many times I have used the word actual in this paragraph.
Knowles writing is beautiful and so painfully realistic. Fern is the perfect mixed up kid. Loyal and kindhearted and protective of her older brother, but completely impatient and unforgiving of her younger brother. Fern's mom is hard on her for not being nicer to Charlie, but on more than one occasion Fern is the one who has had to rescue Charlie from whatever mess he has gotten into because her mom wasn't paying attention. No one is truly at fault or completely blameless for what happens.
I've enjoyed all of Knowles' books and look forward to her next novel. But this time I'll be prepared with a box of tissues. Just in case.
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