Why I Love See You At Harry’s

See you at harry's

When I find a beautifully written piece of kid lit, I have to share it.  And Valentine’s Day is the perfect time to tell you about the bittersweet middle grade novel, See You At Harry’s, by Jo Knowles.

My daughter actually suggested See You At Harry’s.  She found it at her middle school book fair and read it to me during our swim meet road trips.  That’s right, she read to me.  It was a great way to enjoy a book together, except she kept rolling her eyes when I cried, because See You At Harry’s has some very sad spots.

The Premise

Twelve year old Fern feels lost in her “crazy” family.  Her father spends all his energy on the family restaurant business, and her mother often disappears to meditate.

Inner peace

 

Fern’s older sister, Sara, is distant, while her older brother Holden struggles with his sexual identity.  And then there’s Fern’s baby brother Charlie, always ready to poke her with a sticky finger.

Fern laments her status this way:

For someone who is invisible, why am I the only one in this family who can’t seem to master the art of disappearing?

Doesn’t every twelve-year-old feel like this sometimes?

When tragedy strikes, Fern and her family must learn how to pull together in the face of a terrible loss.

What I love about See You at Harry’s

Jo Knowles skillfully and sensitively tackles lots of “coming of age” issues in her novel: grief, loss, insecurity, and love.  She shows  Fern’s emotions with simple yet vivid detail, and there were several passages where I had to sigh with admiration at the beauty of her writing.  Like this one:

[Mom} holds me against her chest and rocks me back and forth.  It feels so strange at first.  She doesn’t smell like I remember.  And my face doesn’t reach the part of her body it used to when she would hold me like this.  I know it’s because I’m bigger now, but to me it feels like she is smaller.

What a beautiful way to describe how Fern has “grown up”, without using tired cliché and symbolism.  This passage made me sniffle; my children are all starting to get taller than me, and it signifies so much more than height.  My daughter heaved an exasperated sigh when she saw the tears on my cheeks.

“Really mom, this isn’t even the sad part.”

But she doesn’t know what I know.

Another great thing about the novel are the characters. Fern has a great bond with her brother Holden, but their relationship gets tested as he explores adult issues. Fern also has a wonderful best friend, Ran, a boy who was bullied in elementary school and who calms Fern with the motto “All will be well.”  Because of his experiences, Ran likes to figure out the “why” behind people’s actions, even when they are mean.

More of us need to be like Ran.

A few caveats

See You at Harry’s deals with some mature issues, including death and homosexuality.  These were great discussion points for my daughter and I as we covered the miles to Knoxville and D.C., but might not be suitable for younger readers.

If you liked the novel Wonder, by R.J. Palacio, I think you’ll enjoy See You at Harry’s.

Have you read See You at Harry’s?  What did you think?  Can you recommend another middle grade novel in the spirit of Harry’s or Wonder?

Thanks!

Julia 

 

Julia Tomiak

I believe in the power of words to improve our lives, and I help people find interesting words to read. Find me on Facebook, Twitter, Goodreads, Pinterest, and Google+. Member of SCBWI and Wordsmithstudio.org.

9 Comments

  1. I’d love to read this! I’m going to get this for our long car trip to Florida in April – maybe I can get my kids to read it out loud. Thanks for the review, Julia!

  2. I also loved Wonder, and after this description, you know I will like this book 🙂 I’m quite positive that I will shed a few tears as well. I really love that your daughter read this to you. My, how the roles begin to reverse and what quality time you are having in the car – love it! Have a great week.

  3. I loved See You At Harry’s. Loved it more than Wonder, though I liked Wonder also. Other books: Gary Schmidt’s Okay For Now is equally fabulous, for me personally maybe the best of the three, but only because it touched me in a personal life experience type of way. All of Jo Knowles books are great, I recommend them all.

    1. Suzanne, welcome and thank you. I just finished listening to The Wednesday Wars by Gary Schmidt, and after skimming the reviews on Goodreads, it looks like I should read Okay for Now next! I’d never heard of Jo Knowles until my daughter brought home Harry’s; I look forward to exploring more of her books. I love contemporary novels. Thanks for stopping by and sharing these great recommendations!

      1. I loved Wednesday Wars too. My grandson who works in a bookstore recommend Okay for Now to me, and WW too. He said it was the best “boy voice” he had read.
        Have you read Rules by Cynthia Lord? And The Absolute Value of Lucky is an amazing book. I can’t remember the author.

  4. I loved Wonder, so I’m definitely going to put this on my reading list. I’ve got another business trip to California coming up, and this sounds like the perfect read for the long plane flight. Hopefully I can contain the waterworks, so my seatmates aren’t alarmed!

    I love that your daughter read this to you on your way to/from swim meets. What a great way to share a story together, plus it reminds me of trips to swim meets with my mom! I’ll never forget the time we went to a meet in SC and my mom got on the interstate the wrong way. Instead of heading home to GA, we ended up in NC. It’s a favorite family story now!

    1. Hilarious, and I can totally see myself doing something like that- sometimes I get too caught up in talking to the kids. I hope you find some good reading for the flight!

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