See You at Harry's, by Jo Knowles, is brilliant, authentic, and devastating. I tend to skim reviews, because I hate spoilers, so I had only the vaguest notion that "something bad happens" to the family in See You at Harry's. But honestly, you can kind of tell from the tone of the book. I'm not going to say what that "something bad" is. Just that I personally found it very difficult.
Sometimes, when a book is emotionally difficult, I don't finish it. Life is too short, too many other books to read, etc. But I never considered not finishing See You at Harry's. By the time the tragedy occurred, I was far too invested in the characters to stop. All of the characters, but particularly the narrator, Fern, are fabulous. Three-dimensional, unique, and authentically flawed. The family dynamics feel so real that one can imagine being right there at the dinner table with them. Here are a couple of examples:
"I wish Sara could be more like the Sara she was named after from A Little Princess. That Sara is nice to everyone. Even the mice in the attic. This Sara seems to find it necessary to look for everyone's weak spot. And then stomp on it." (Chapter 3)
"The thing is, my dad is the kind of person who gets carried away. When he thinks he has a good idea, there's just no stopping him. We all know he doesn't only care about the business. But sometimes ... yeah. Sometimes it does sort of feel that way." (Chapter 13)
Another aspect of the book that feels authentic is Knowles' depiction of family ownership of a restaurant. An afterword reveals that Knowles grew up in the restaurant business, and this makes complete sense. See You at Harry's is filled with little details about hanging out at the restaurant after school, interacting with employees who are like extended family, and customers who steal the silverware. I was reminded, a tiny bit, of my own childhood, essentially growing up in the family hardware store.
While there is certainly humor in See You at Harry's, and even joy, parts of the book are very sad. Like this:
"I am holding on to Sara as I sob so hard, I think I will turn inside out. I sob and sob, and she does, too. I soak her shirt with my tears, and she soaks my hair with hers. And she holds me and holds me and doesn't get up. And eventually we tire ourselves out so much we fall asleep." (Chapter 22)
There are also other themes in the book: coping with bullying; coming out at home and school; and managing romantic feelings between friends. See You at Harry's is far more than a book about dealing with a family tragedy. But the tragedy, as far as I'm concerned anyway, is pretty gut-wrenching. So there you have it: brilliant but devastating. I do recommend See You at Harry's for those who enjoy tear-jerkers, and anyone who can handle the serious side of family drama, age 10 and up.
Publisher: Candlewick (@Candlewick)
Publication Date: May 8, 2012
Source of Book: Review copy from the publisher
© 2012 by Jennifer Robinson of Jen Robinson's Book Page. All rights reserved. This site is an Amazon affiliate, and purchases made through Amazon links may result in my receiving a small commission (at no additional cost to you).