Saturday, May 17, 2014

SURE SIGNS OF CRAZY, by Karen Harrington

Sure Signs of CrazyHarrington, Karen.  (2013). Sure Signs of Crazy. New York: Little, Brown and Company.

In this upper middle grade contemporary fiction, Sarah Nelson is 12 and lives with her dad, mainly on account of her mother trying to kill her when she was two. Sarah’s twin did die that day and since that time, her father has drunk more than he should to deal with his grief. A  teacher suggests the class write real, hand-written letters to someone, even if that someone is a character in a book.  Sarah begins writing Atticus Finch, who is the kind of dad she wished she had. Sarah determines to figure out what happened with her mother in case she might end up crazy like her, too, and spends the summer growing up, making new friends, having her first crush and learning what it means to be brave.

Karen Harrington writes a beautifully poignant, but rawly honest story.  The topic is tough, but it is handled with grace and the particular voice created for Sarah is strong and clear.  It’s not a plot-heavy driven book, but I appreciate a book with introspection and reflection.  It feels like a very literary novel for upper middle grade students.  Hopefully, the many references to To Kill a Mockingbird will encourage readers to one day pick up that masterpiece. Sarah’s interest for words and her continual explanation of new terms was delightful to someone who also loves language, but might be less so to children looking for a fast-moving plot. I would recommend it for only for older middle grade students and up due to the intense nature of the material, though it is not graphic.

Professional Reviews, excerpts:

Voice of Youth Advocates  ( December 01, 2013) 
When Sarah's sixth-grade teacher challenges the class to "write to someone" over the summer, Sarah takes him up on the idea, writing letters to Atticus Finch, the father she wishes she had. As her twelfth birthday approaches, Sarah is ready for a change. …Sarah's first person narrative is clear, strong, humorous, and honest, despite the complexity of the challenges she faces. Readers who enjoy realistic fiction and exploring the complexities of human relationships will enjoy Sarah's compelling quest for hope.
Publishers Weekly,  (May 27, 2013)
In her middle-grade debut, Harrington revisits the family from her adult novel, Janeology, as she goes behind the scenes of a tabloid-headline story. Ten years ago, Sarah Nelson's mother, Jane, attempted to drown Sarah and her twin brother, Simon, who didn't survive. Now 12, Sarah has moved from town to town with her sad, alcoholic father, trying to escape media attention while her mother resides in a mental institution. …Over one watershed summer, Sarah tries to learn about being a woman from her 20-year-old neighbor, Charlotte; develops her first crush-on Charlotte's 19-year-old brother, who shares her love of words; and struggles to figure out how to live as her mother's daughter. Harrington skillfully portrays watchful, contemplative Sarah's coming of age. Ages 9-up.
Horn Book Magazine, excerpt ( November 08, 2013 ) 
The book is never maudlin, even at the breath-catching climax when Sarah goes to see her mother. And if there are a few too many plot points and the protagonists voice sounds less like a just-turned-twelve-year-olds and more like a highly self-aware (and impossibly resilient) grownup, it’s well worth looking past in order to appreciate the extraordinary heart of the story.
Booklist ( August 01, 2013) 
*Starred Review* For the opening of her middle-grade debut, Harrington cuts right to the heart of her narrator's grim situation: You've never met anyone like me. Unless, of course, you've met someone who survived her mother trying to drown her and now lives with an alcoholic father. ...Don't think this will be a hard sell to readers, though, for Harrington has created a protagonist who is, in her own way, as clear-eyed, tough-minded, and inspiring as any dystopian hero…Harrington doesn't leave out humor she has fun with Sarah's romantic illusions but makes it clear that it's Sarah's courage and urge to communicate that will push her beyond her traumatic childhood.
Personal Response:

Despite the sadness inherent in this book because of events that happen long before the first chapter begins, I really loved it.  Sarah really does not invoke pity —she’s tough and smart and savvy.  She’s someone I enjoyed getting to know and rooting for. 

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