Middle school sucks. There is no way around that. You don’t know who you are yet, and you feel like you’ll never know. You want to be your own person, yet you don’t want to stick out. And the worst – the worst! – is your parents. They have the power to crush you with shame and embarrassment.
Welcome to the world of Fern, named after the character in Charlotte’s Web, someone destined to be a good friend. As if being saddled with the name of a girl with a pet pig isn’t burden enough, Fern also has to deal with her restaurant-owning parents, particularly her father, who includes the whole family – Fern, older sister Sara (named after the girl in The Little Princess), older brother Holden (named after Caulfield in Catcher in the Rye) and younger “oops baby” brother Charlie (named after the one with the chocolate factory), plus their mom – in a commercial. The tag line of the ad, “See you at Harry’s,” is spoken with adorable three-year-old charm by Charlie. But Fern is appalled and embarrassed. She also feels no small measure of resentment toward Charlie. Not that she doesn’t love him – she clearly does – but too often she is called upon to watch him because her mother and sister do not. Fern wants more freedom, but taking care of Charlie is a burden. Meanwhile, she finds herself developing romantic feelings toward Ran, her best friend since grade school.
Then there is Holden. He battles bullies on the bus, heathens who taunt him for being gay. Not that Holden has come out to his family yet; he’s 14, and he believes his family won’t understand. When Fern overhears him tell a friend that his family is clueless, she feels hurt and angry.
Not all of us are, I think. We love you. You’re the one who’s too clueless to notice.
The family chugs along, each fighting a private battle, until a tragedy brings them together. But the coming together is not easy, and each has to discover on his or her own that they need each other and love each other. They have to be there for each other.
What starts as a breezy story of a 12-year-old girl surviving middle school develops into a family struggling to survive disaster. There are moments of joy and happiness in this book, but there are also moments of devastation. Have a box of tissues nearby.
The characters are wonderful. Fern is so lovable and sweet that you will want to adopt her. She’s also very well written; she truly is a 12-year-old girl. Holden is also richly drawn; Sara is more complex than she appears, but I did want to know more about her. Charlie and the parents jump out as well.
See You at Harry’s is a lovely book, perfect for pre- and early teens. Who knows – it might help them appreciate their families a little more.
Published by Candlewick and available on Amazon.com.
Thanks to NetGalley for the preview.