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Saturday, July 28, 2012

See You at Harry's, written by Jo Knowles. Candlewick Press, Random House. 2012. $19.00 ages 13 and up

"A tiny head pops up at the bottom of the window from inside. It has bushy brown hair. A little hand spreads across the glass and waves slowly. I smile and wave back. Inside, the restaurant's familiar sweet and greasy smell wraps around me. Charlie is sitting at the table under the window with Doll. Doll's hair has been twisted into dreadlocks and dyed green."

At the end of this book I felt that I knew Fern, and each of the characters who have an impact in her life. She is a brilliantly honest narrator, who loves her family while being so exasperated with them all that she can hardly stand it.

Her parents own and operate a restaurant cum ice-cream parlor that is the family business. Her father is consumed with finding new marketing ploys that are sure to attract  customers, even using his unwilling family in an embarrassing advertising campaign. Her mother meditates in an upstairs office to find peaceful moments away from the chaos. Her older sister Sara is grumpy and demanding, taking a year off between finishing high school and starting something new. Her older brother Holden is coming to terms with his sexuality and discussing his involvement with his first boyfriend. Her little brother Charlie, at 3 and much younger than his siblings, is a bundle of energy, annoying to the extreme at times, and loved by one and all.

Ran is Fern's school friend who has his own complicated history. He has found a way to remain calm in the face of every situation; his motto repeated often is  'all will be well'. His wisdom offers serenity when all else seems chaotic and overwhelming to Fern. Even Ran can't help when the unthinkable happens and the family is left to cope with their own grief and their feelings of guilt. As they struggle to find peace and each other, Jo Knowles keeps their story so real and absolutely unbearable. It is only as the siblings support each other and try to do the same for their distraught parents that readers find comfort in the small steps they are making toward a better place.

I have a special place in my heart for Fern as the narrator of this brilliantly written family story; each character holds its own as the story plays out. We come to know them intimately and while we do not always like their actions, we grow to honor them for the lives they live. We share their pain and live in hopes that they will find a way back from the sadness they are all feeling so strongly. Fern is tenacious in her honesty as she shares her pain and that of her family as they struggle through each new day.

Keep the tissue box close at hand and be prepared to think about this agonizing, then hopeful story in the days to come. You want to remember these people...their triumphs and their struggles, their joys and their sorrow, but most of all, their unconditional love for one another after unbearable heartbreak.

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