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BOOK REVIEWS, Contemporary Realistic Fiction, Young Adult Readers

SEE YOU AT HARRY’S by Jo Knowles

By Jo Knowles

See You at Harry’s is a powerful book.  Be aware before you read it that it does deal with the death of a child.

The main character is Fern (named for the main character in E.B. White’s Charlotte’s Web).  She is twelve years old with an older brother and sister (Holden and Sara) and a younger brother, Charlie.  Fern feels invisible:  Sara is the oldest, taking a break after graduating high school before going to college; Holden is the brother to whom she is closest, but who is struggling to find a way to tell his parents he is gay without risking rejection and judgement; and Charlie is the irrepressible baby of the family.

Their parents own a restaurant called Harry’s (named for her grandfather).  Fern’s father is always coming up with these elaborate publicity ideas which mortify his three oldest children. Sara, Holden, Fern and their mother participate in dorky commercial shoots and print advertisements because they all know their father’s heart is in the right place.  Charlie, of course, at three, is all for the crazy shenanigans at Harry’s.  His loud “See you at Hawee’s!” becomes the restaurant’s new slogan.

Fern’s simultaneous frustration, confusion and love for her family and their life are feelings with which every reader will identify.  The first half of the book does an excellent job establishing characters and joining the reader’s heart to Fern.  In a pivotal turn of fate everyone’s lives are turned on their end and the reader travels with each character–especially Fern–as they navigate the difficult path of grief, guilt and hopelessness that accompany the loss of a loved one.

For any reader who has already experienced such a loss, you will recognize much of your own experience in Fern’s.  The book will have a lesser impact on younger readers who have yet to experience this type of pain in their lives.  The fact that every one of us, just by the nature of being human and having relationships with those around us, WILL experience grief and loss makes See You at Harry’s a worthwhile read.

Finding our way back to life and giving ourselves permission to be still joyful in the wake of overwhelming loss is one of the most important journeys we will take.  Fern’s story allows us to acknowledge that although we feel incapable of dealing with the pain of grieving in the face of being required to keep living our day-to-day lives, we can find our way with help and love.  See You at Harry’s can be a welcome companion on that journey–or in preparation for it.



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