Author: Jo Knowles
Release date: June 15, 2012
Publisher: Candlewick, 310 pages
(Thanks to the publisher for providing a review copy of the book.)
Since summer reading in my house involves my three children, and because I was so ridiculously impressed with the slate of upcoming Middle Grade books at BEA, I’ve decided to dedicate Mondays to the 9-12 crowd. My oldest is 10, so occasionally he’ll help me select and review the books, but this one is all my choosing.
Twelve-year-old Fern feels invisible. It seems as though everyone in her family has better things to do than pay attention to her: Mom (when she’s not meditating) helps Dad run the family restaurant; Sarah is taking a gap year after high school; and Holden pretends that Mom and Dad and everyone else doesn’t know he’s gay, even as he fends off bullies at school. Then there’s Charlie: three years old, a “surprise” baby, the center of everyone’s world. He’s devoted to Fern, but he’s annoying, too, always getting his way, always dirty, always commanding attention. If it wasn’t for Ran, Fern’s calm and positive best friend, there’d be nowhere to turn. Ran’s mantra, “All will be well,” is soothing in a way that nothing else seems to be. And when Ran says it, Fern can almost believe it’s true. But then tragedy strikes- and Fern feels not only more alone than ever, but also responsible for the accident that has wrenched her family apart. All will not be well. Or at least all will never be the same. (Goodreads)
Candlewick sent me “See You at Harry’s” along with a bunch of other books last March, when I was reviewing “Froi of the Exiles” and setting up “Getting Over Garrett Delaney” as a Book Club selection. I’m so glad I finally got around to reading it, because it’s one of those stories where the protagonist’s coming-of-age tale is so powerful (and heartbreaking) it stays with you long after you’ve put down the book.
Set in a small town, “See You at Harry’s” chronicles the life of 12-year-old Fern (she and all her siblings are named after literary characters), whose father owns “Harry’s,” a small-town family restaurant renowned for its ice-cream parlor. Fern, a fabulously authentic narrator, feels invisible in her family. Her older brother Holden is coming to terms with being different, even if at first he doesn’t want to admit it to anyone; her oldest sister Sarah is a high-school graduate helping the family out for a year before college starts; and her three-year-old baby brother Charlie is the apple of everyone’s eye, but he’s also a pest — as little brothers usually are, particularly to their beloved older sisters.
Feeling like the forgettable member of the family, Fern is lucky enough to have a wise, loyal (and yes, cute) best friend, Ran, whose family makes T-shirts with thoughtful, philosophical slogans, and who challenges Fern to remain calm and optimistic even under the hardest of circumstances. When an unexpected accident turns into a horrifying family tragedy, Fern must come to terms with her guilt as everyone in her family begins to fall apart around her.
Without spoiling the story, the tragedy will be difficult to process. It’s sudden and upsetting, and tear-jerking to recall. And while there are no pat happy endings possible when a family endures such a rift, Fern does realize she doesn’t need to hate or blame herself for what happened. Although boys or girls would do well to read it, I think girls in particular will relate to Fern (and fall for her sweet best friend Ran). I hope those of you open to reading MG books will give it a try this summer.