At NCTE I knew that I would be compelled to tour the exhibit halls, if only to get an ARC of Eye of the Storm by Kate Messner. Before hitting those exhibits, however, I was lucky enough to attend a session on critique groups for writing with Kate as one of the panelists. I’m met Kate a few times. She was kind enough to Skype with my school for family reading night. I’ve run into her at conferences over the past two years and “spoken” with her on twitter several times. At the end of the session I went up to her and told her one- how amazing she is, and two- my need to get my hands on one of her ARCs. She told me the booth number and then mentioned if I was headed down there to stop at Candlewick’s booth and get an ARC of Jo Knowles new book, See You at Harry’s. Boy am I glad she said that.
To say that See You at Harry’s is a powerful and emotional book is like saying the sky is blue. It starts as an almost coming of age book. Fern is entering middle school. She is part of a wonderfully eccentric family. Her parents are free-spirited – they used to follow the Grateful Dead but settled down to run her grandfather’s diner. They named their children after their favorite characters from books. Fern’s sister Sarah has not gotten into any good colleges so she’s working at the diner while she decides what to do. Her brother Holden is beginning high school and coming to grips with who he is. And Charlie, the three year old, was the surprise child for her parents. Charlie often follows Fern around, much to her annoyance, which will resonate with anyone who has had younger siblings in their life.
Fern often feels overlooked and invisible in this large family. She can seemingly blend in as she swallows down what she wants to say. But she does quietly speak up at times, surprising everyone around her.
I loved this book for a variety of reasons. One, because Fern is such a relatable character. Many students will identify with her, wanting to stand up to the bullies, to speak up to their siblings and their parents, to take back what they can’t take back.
But most of all, I love this book for everything I cannot talk about for fear of spoiling it for anyone. Let me just say this, I love Holden and Fern’s relationship. I love Holden for being who he is meant to be. I love Fern and felt for her for the last ½ of the book as I sobbed and shoved the Kleenex off of my book so I could read the book faster. I love Ran, Fern’s wonderful independent friend who is loyal and kind. Most of all, I loved Charlie for the fact that he reminded me so much of my son Liam. Liam, who came in to ask why I was crying as I read that book and if it made me sad, why would I continue to read it? I told him what I will tell you. Sometimes things are so beautiful that they bring the tears to your eyes. This book is beautiful. With that, I will end on a sentence from the book, from a poem by Merrit Malloy, “When all that’s left of me is love, give me away.” Read this book.