By Jo Knowles
Candlewick Press, 2012
Awards/Recognitions: *Kirkus Reviews, starred review
Jo Knowles’ middle grade novel, See You at Harry’s, is a portrait of family life drawn from the perspective of twelve-year old, Fern, the youngest child until surprise-brother, Charlie, arrived. We join the family as Fern starts middle school, Charlie is now three; Fern feels invisible; her older brother Holden wishes he was invisible; and her older sister Sarah sees everything that everyone else is missing.
Fern’s folks are overwhelmed. Who wouldn’t be managing three teenagers, a toddler, and a family-restaurant? Mom and Dad keep themselves distracted from the struggles of their teen-age children – Mom by running off to meditate and Dad by working himself into a hilarious marketing frenzy guaranteed to embarrass his teens. Fern is a peacemaker by nature, but a feisty one who descends the steps of school bus hell in solidarity with her gay brother, Holden.
Things start to really unravel as Fern clocks a bully to give him a spoonful of his own medicine, Holden skips class to get away from everyone but Mr. Right, and Sara gets busted making out with a bus boy in the restaurant freezer. Hey, who’s running this family, anyway? And, what will it take to get the family back on its center?
In every family, there is heartache and regret, misunderstanding and misplaced guilt. In this family, there is also tragedy. When the unthinkable happens, everyone blames themselves and the family bond begins to fray even more. Fern is the hardest hit of all, a prisoner to her own isolated grief, and refusing, for a time, to let anyone in. Thank goodness for Fern’s best friend, Ran. I speak from experience when I say that the most exquisite and wonderful of friends are those like RAn who quote Julian of Norwich during times of crises and worry. All shall be well and all manner of thing shall be well.
In the end, Ran is right, and that is the jewel of this book. We know that the very act of loving is to accept – even welcome – heartache, because even the cruelest night cannot squelch love.
Jo Knowles has captured the particular lexicon of this family with an expert-ear and perfect pitch. She is masterful in her portrayal of family life with all of its routines and surprises, guilt and absolution. She writes with such intimacy and heart that reading See You At Harry’s is almost like reading a memory that you know you never lived but now cannot quite dismiss the thought that maybe, you did. GA
Listen to an excerpt from the audiobook, See You at Harry’s audio