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Sunday, March 13, 2011

Also Known As Harper, written by Ann Haywood Leal. Henry Holt, 2009. $21.99 ages 10 and up

"Some people like things
shiny and crisp
But I tend to like things with
the scraped up edges.
That way I can tell other people
have liked them too.
They've torn them and spilled
on them
Or broken off a corner or two
As they went about the important
business of their day."

Awake in the middle of the night with the sniffling and sneezing of a cold, I was able to distract attention from my 'poor' me and read about Harper Lee and her family. They are living a hardscrabble life, the victims of circumstances beyond their control. Harper has a younger brother Hemingway and a mother who works too hard, but cannot make ends meet. Their father left them, following a fight fueled by whiskey, a year ago and now, it was just the three of them.

Harper loves school and is sure that this year she will be able to participate in the poetry contest there. Writing is as natural to Harper as it is to her mother. They have a knack for putting their feelings into words and getting it down on paper. Both have been ridiculed by Harper's father. Neither has stopped writing although Harper's mother has little time for it anymore. Just before she is to register for the contest, the family is thrown out of their rental home and school is no longer a possibility.

They have moved before; and now Harper's mother moves them to an old hotel nearby. Because Mama has to take another job to help pay the bills, Harper must stay home with Hem. Never one to fall into despair, Harper and Hem meet new friends, with difficulties of their own. Randall and Lorraine live nearby and are worth getting to know. Lorraine doesn't speak, the result of the devastating trauma of a fire. She and Harper like each other immediately. Randall and Hem have common interests and they all grow to love Dorothy, an old woman who owns the property around the motel.

Each of the well-drawn characters has had to deal with great sadness and heartache. The plight of the homeless is evident...people working hard and not able to make any progress. Not enough food, an uncertain future, and a lack of the basic amenities make their days difficult but Harper remains positive and helpful as the family struggles to deal with their lot in life.
Compelling and often full of heartache, this is a story that helps its readers believe in the goodness in people and leaves them feeling hopeful about the future for Harper and her family.

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