Fern is twelve years old and just entering middle school. But while other kids her age are dealing with issues like what to wear to school and which lunch table to sit at, Fern has to deal with the fact that her father, owner of Harry’s, the local ice cream parlor/restaurant, is suddenly obsessed with using his family’s image on all of the local advertising. I mean, what twelve-year-old would actually want her image splashed on a delivery truck or plastered on cartons of ice cream in the local markets? How embarrassing!
But Fern’s other concerns are much more difficult to handle. For one thing, she feels invisible in her family of five: in addition to her Mom and Dad, there’s Sara, who has graduated high school and is working at Harry’s; Holden, who is just entering high school; and Charlie, the four-year-old who is way too clingy, always wanting to play with “Ferny’ and dragging his dirty, tattered doll over to her. And then there’s her family’s reaction to Holden, who is in the process of coming out as gay. Fern sees no problem with Holden’s sexuality, but is immensely troubled at others’ reactions to him: from her father, who ignores the issue until a new, older boyfriend of Holden’s appears, to Sara, who teases Holden in a attempt to get him to come out of the closet, to the bullies on the bus, who torment Holden, and then, by extension, Fern. This may seem to be enough of a family issue for one fairly slim book to cover. But the most difficult challenge for Fern’s family is to come, one that will redefine who they are and lead Fern to grapple with guilt, loss, and growing up and moving forward despite that loss.
While I have read and enjoyed two of Jo Knowles’ previous books, she has outdone herself here, shining to new heights. See You at Harry’s is a stunning novel, utterly heartbreaking and remarkably real. While this book is not expansive in length, it is truly expansive in heart. In simple, straightforward prose, Knowles truly gets to the heart of both Fern and her family, and the characters live and breathe through her words. This novel covers some heavy themes: guilt, regret, responsibility, loss, one’s role within a family, and moving on, but nothing is dealt with using a heavy hand. Knowles weaves these issues within her story delicately and sensitively. This is one of the best young adult novels I have read in recent memory, and, while I was lucky enough to read an advanced copy from NetGalley, I will be purchasing copies both for myself and for my library.
Advanced copy received from NetGalley.
See You at Harry’s will be out on May 8. 2012.