Books! See You at Harry’s/Homecoming


  See You at Harry's Cover Image

See You at Harry’s by Jo Knowles (Candlewick, 2012) is so full of heart that it will touch your heart and forever change it. The characters are so real you’ll feel sure you’ll run into them the next time you’re out. And, you’ll know them so well, you’ll be sure they know you too.

Fern’s family runs a restaurant that keeps them busy. Her older sister and parents spend most of their time working or caring for her baby brother. Fern’s older brother is the one she’s closest to, but he’s dealing with being bullied and is sensitive to her witnessing that. Fern feels almost invisible in this big family. And then a tragedy happens, and the family must learn all over again how to be a family and what each of them means to the others. These characters will live in your heart long after you read the last page.

Read an amazing interview with Jo on Libba Bray’s blog and enter to win a copy of See You at Harry’s!

Interview with Jo Knowles

  Book: Dicey's Song

Another literary family I love is Dicey’s family in Homecoming by Cynthia Voigt (Harper Collins, 1981). This is a family I have followed through several volumes, including books that focus on minor characters that Dicey meets in her life. I always love the glimpse of Dicey and her brothers and sister in the books about the other characters. It feels like a secret the author and I share when I recognize them.

Dicey and her two younger brothers and younger sister spend a day waiting in the car in a mall parking lot for their mother. When Dicey realizes her mother is not going to return, she’s afraid the family will be split up in the foster care system. She decides to take her family to relatives they’ve never met. The book follows their journey—on foot—from Connecticut to Maryland. This is another family I feel I could meet on the street and know. I’m sure Dicey and Fern and I would be great friends.


Who are your favorite families in books?

Books! The Book of Blood and Shadow/Stuck in Neutral

In my current work-in-progress, a librarian gives the main character two books every time she visits: one new one and one older one. I thought I could recommend the same!


The Book of Blood and Shadow by Robin Wasserman, Knopf, 2012

             I love good first lines, and this book has a great one:

I should probably start with the blood. (p. 3)

             And I love mystery and suspense. And international intrigue. Throw in a little love story and great writing and I’ll read it more than once. That’s how I feel about this book. I read it the first time in big gulps—faster than I’ve read anything recently because I couldn’t stop. I can’t wait to read it again.

Nora Kane is a high school student in a private school. She and her friends are translating old Latin manuscripts with a professor at the local college when her best friend Chris is killed, his girlfriend Adriane who witnesses the murder stops speaking or responding, and Nora’s boyfriend Max disappears and is believed to be the murderer. Nora feels the ancient manuscripts hold the key and convinces Adriane to help her translate and follow the clues in them. Travel, intrigue, secret societies, fake cousins, and danger keep you turning the pages of this amazing, smart novel.


Stuck in Neutral by Terry Trueman, HarperTeen, 2001

 I recently received a note from a friend asking about this book because a school district near her was trying to ban it from being read in 7th and 8th grade. First, I have to say I don’t think there needs to be censoring of what people read. If readers are not ready for the issues/language/material in the book they are reading, they will stop reading. Or they will take in what they’re able to take in and be satisfied with that. When you read a book at different times in your life, you will respond to it differently and you’ll understand it differently.

I read the letters from the people taking the issue to the school board and the letters from people answering their concerns. It’s hard to know exactly what the agenda of the group was. I think sometimes it’s hard for people to know for sure what it is they object to when a book touches a nerve. This group mentioned strong language (swearing), euthanasia, and murder as reasons middle school readers shouldn’t be reading it.

Sadly, middle school readers can’t be protected from any of these things. They see the news on TV or the Internet. They read newspapers. They watch movies and television shows. They’re around people. But, I’ve found that middle school students are among the most thoughtful and compassionate people there are. Reading about these issues lets them look at other people differently and think about why people behave the way they do.

Stuck in Neutral is narrated by Shawn, a teen confined to a wheelchair by severe cerebral palsy. He can’t do anything for himself or communicate with anyone. But, trapped inside his non-functioning body is a smart boy and he tells about the world as he sees it. He’s worried that his father wants to kill him because Shawn must be suffering. And Shawn can’t tell him that’s not true. This book explores what it might be like to be trapped inside a body that doesn’t work.

 Let me know if you read either of these and what you think! What would you recommend for me?