See You at Harry’s

You’d think I’d know by now not to judge a book by its cover. Well, I don’t, and the latest book to fool me is See You at Harry’s by Jo Knowles. Let’s take a quick look at the cover:

This cover practically shouts, “Brain candy right here!” I mean, there’s ice cream on the cover, for goodness sake. Of course I thought I would be getting a light, fun read that would be a nice contrast to other, heavier books I was reading. Alas, that was not the case. (I probably should have paid closer attention to the blurb on the front cover and the synopsis on the back. My bad.) Now, that’s not to say that See You at Harry’s was bad in any way. It was wonderful, to be quite honest. It just wasn’t what I was expecting…and that’s a good thing. I re-learned an important lesson and got a moving, sob-inducing book in the process. Hooray for me.

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Fern often feels ignored by her family. Her father’s main focus is on the family business. Her mom, when not helping Fern’s dad, is wrapped up in her meditation. Her sister Sara is taking a year off between high school and college and seems to delight in telling her siblings what to do. Her brother Holden spends most of his time hiding his true self from the world. Then there’s Charlie.

Charlie is three years old and the center of everyone’s world. Fern, who is probably Charlie’s favorite sibling, loves her little brother but finds him annoying at times. Sometimes, Fern wishes Charlie would just leave her alone and bother someone else with his dirty, sticky, loud, obnoxious self. Why can’t he ignore her like everyone else does?

Fern’s only solace is the time she spends with her friend, Ran. Ran is the epitome of cool, calm, and collected. His mantra of “all will be well” soothes Fern when things aren’t great–both at home and at school. Pretty soon, though, even Ran’s mantra won’t be enough to soothe what ails Fern…

When tragedy strikes Fern’s family–and Fern feels as if she’s to blame–life as she knows it begins to unravel. How can any of them go on when something so horrible has happened? At first, they can’t. Fern wonders how anyone in her family can stand to look at her when they know that this horrible accident is all her fault. She doesn’t see any way past what has happened, and she can’t fathom being happy after what has befallen her family.

But there is hope…

Fern, with the help of her friends and siblings, eventually realizes that, even though her sadness is often unbearable, she deserves to be happy. She can laugh and celebrate and love despite her tragic circumstances. Joy can be found even in the bad times. Fern and her family simply have to find a way to look for the light in the midst of the darkness.

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I really hope I haven’t given away what happens in this book. That would just ruin everything. Suffice it to say that I cried ugly tears through the latter half of the book. (We’re talking wet shirt, foggy glasses, going through a whole box of Kleenex here. I was a mess.) So, if you’re looking for a good cry, See You at Harry’s may be the book for you.

In my most humble opinion, See You at Harry’s is a book suited to middle grade readers on up. I do think, though, that tween readers will have a very different reaction than will adult readers of this book. It might be interesting to compare the two reactions in a faculty-student book club. (If I worked in a middle school library, I’d strive to make this a reality.)

If you’d like to learn more about See You at Harry’s and other books by Jo Knowles, check out the author’s website. (Quite a few of her books are on my extensive TBR list.) You can also connect with the author on Twitter, Facebook, and Tumblr.

Happy reading!

Crash

I’ve been a fan of Lisa McMann‘s work since I read the first book in her Wake trilogy way back in 2008. I’ve since read that entire trilogy (Wake, Fade, and Gone), Cryer’s Cross, and Dead to You, all fabulous books by an equally fabulous author. (She’s also written a middle-grade fantasy series, The Unwanteds, that’s on my to-read list.)

Yesterday, I finished the first book in McMann’s Visions series. The book is Crash, and it was just as strange, compelling, and captivating as the other books I’ve read by this author.  It’s a very quick read that will definitely appeal to boys, girls, reluctant readers, and those who will devour any book in sight.

Jules Demarco tries to keep her head down. Any girl who usually smells like pizza, drives around in a truck sporting two huge meatballs on top, and has a father who is a hoarder would probably do her best to go unnoticed…but that’s growing more difficult by the day.

Jules recently started having visions of a horrible, fiery crash, and she sees this vision everywhere. On billboards, TV and computer screens, windows, books…everywhere. In the not-too-distant future, an out-of-control truck is going to run into a building and explode, killing as many as nine people. But when? And where?

Jules tries to look for clues as to when and where this crash will eventually happen, and she’s shocked by what she discovers. Someone she truly cares for–a guy from a family that hates her own–will die if she doesn’t find a way to halt this tragedy.

But what can Jules possibly do without people thinking she’s crazy? How can Jules convince anyone to take her seriously when even she doesn’t really understand what’s going on? Especially someone whose family flips out if he so much as glances at Jules?

One thing is certain. Time is running out, and Jules will have to do everything in her power–including putting her own life at risk–to stop the worst from happening. Will she succeed, or will her vision of this crash ultimately take everything from her?

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This book reminded me a little of the Num8bers series by Rachel Ward. (This British YA series revolves around a few people cursed with seeing everyone’s date of death hovering over their heads. Creepy but cool.) Like Num8ers, Crash–and the rest of the Visions series, I guess–deals with catastrophic future events that a young person is trying desperately to change. I’m sure I’m not alone when I say that a power like that could come in handy…but I’m not sure I’d want the responsibility.

Crash is a YA novel with some bad language and adult (though not necessarily sexual) situations that may make this better for high school students, but mature middle school students may be able to handle it. I don’t know. You know the tweens and teens in your life better than I do. Use your best judgment.

Crash is the first book in the Visions trilogy. The second book, Bang, is already out, and the third book, Gasp, has a June 3rd publication date.

 

Three Times Lucky

This morning, I finished yet another of this year’s nominees for the South Carolina Children’s Book Award. That book was Three Times Lucky by Sheila Turnage. Almost from the first page, I was enthralled. Why, you may ask? Simply because of the main character’s voice and the descriptive language used in this story. It’s been a while since I read any book–whether for children, teens, or adults–that was such a wonderful example of developing a character’s voice and employing figurative language. I found myself laughing frequently at how things were described in this book, and I also think readers and writers could learn a lot from Three Times Lucky about how to creatively express themselves using something as simple–and complicated–as words.

Eleven years ago, Moses “Mo” LoBeau washed ashore in Tupelo’s Landing, North Carolina. This child, who was washed away from her Upstream Mother in a hurricane, was rescued by the memory-impaired, cantankerous Colonel and Miss Lana, and the three of them made a life for themselves in this small coastal town.

Now, eleven years later, Mo is a rising sixth grader who works part-time in the restaurant run by the Colonel and Miss Lana. (Her specialty seems to be peanut butter on Wonder Bread.) She spends most of her spare time researching who and where her Upstream Mother might be, and she enjoys hanging out with her best friend, Dale Earnhardt Johnson III. (The “III” is for the iconic #3 car of his namesake.)

This summer, however, things are being stirred up in Tupelo’s Landing, and Mo takes it upon herself to figure out what’s going on. One of the restaurant’s customers has been killed, a cop is asking questions about Mo’s beloved Colonel, and strange things are afoot in the town Mo calls home. What else is a precocious girl to do? Mo and Dale open up their own detective agency–Desperado Detectives–and begin investigating the crime.

What these junior detectives find, though, may just change everything they know about the people they’re closest to. What secrets are hiding in Tupelo’s Landing? And how can Mo and Dale discover the truth when the police can’t?

As Mo and Dale come closer and closer to solving the biggest mystery to hit Tupelo’s Landing since Mo herself washed ashore, they’ll learn just what family and friendship really mean. When waters get rough, it becomes clear who’ll be there for them, and even Mo might be surprised by who has her back. Join Mo LoBeau on her journey to the truth when you read Three Times Lucky by Sheila Turnage, a nominee for the 2013-14 South Carolina Children’s Book Award!

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The brief recap above doesn’t even come close to describing what Mo encounters in Three Times Lucky. I tried to hit the major points, but there are so many more that I could have added. Mo is a character to be remembered, and I could see so many of my students in her. She’s hilarious, strong-willed, loyal, curious, and determined…qualities that are to be admired in anyone, in my opinion. I adore this character and the way she looks at life. Despite her humble, mysterious origins, Mo doesn’t let anything stand in her way. Yes, that can sometimes get her into trouble, but she always has the best of intentions.

Another thing I enjoyed about Three Times Lucky was how many of the adults treated Mo. She wasn’t just some annoying kid to them. She was a valued part of the community…even when she didn’t always feel that way. The adults around Mo listened to her, took her seriously, and looked out for her. That’s no small thing, especially when Mo is technically an orphan with no “real” family of her own. In this book, it definitely takes a village to raise this particular child, and I think they’ve done a fantastic job!

If I had to classify this book, I would call it a humorous mystery. (If that wasn’t a category before, it is now.) Yes, Mo and Dale are trying to solve a murder, but they’re also living the lives 11-year-old kids with problems. Those problems are serious in their own right, but both Mo and Dale deal with those issues with humor and a particularly refreshing outlook.

All in all, I would say that Three Times Lucky is an excellent read for those in upper elementary grades and up. It’s highly entertaining from start to finish. I hope my students feel the same way.

The author of Three Times Lucky, Sheila Turnage, currently lives in eastern North Carolina, so I can only hope that she’ll journey across the border soon to visit with students and librarians in South Carolina. In the meantime, check out her webpage at http://www.sheilaturnage.com/SheilaTurnage/Desktop.html for more information on Three Times Lucky and future books!