Feature Book of the Week
See Your At Harry's
Twelve-year-old Fern feels invisible. It seems as though everyone in her family has better things to do than pay attention to her: Mom (when she’s not meditating) helps Dad run the family restaurant; Sarah is taking a gap year after high school; and Holden pretends that Mom and Dad and everyone else doesn’t know he’s gay, even as he fends off bullies at school. Then there’s Charlie: three years old, a "surprise" baby, the center of everyone’s world. He’s devoted to Fern, but he’s annoying, too, always getting his way, always dirty, always commanding attention. If it wasn’t for Ran, Fern’s calm and positive best friend, there’d be nowhere to turn. Ran’s mantra, "All will be well," is soothing in a way that nothing else seems to be. And when Ran says it, Fern can almost believe it’s true. But then tragedy strikes- and Fern feels not only more alone than ever, but also responsible for the accident that has wrenched her family apart. All will not be well. Or at least all will never be the same.
A Guest Post from Jo Knowles
Many years ago, my agent suggested I write a book that reflected my childhood experience growing up in the restaurant business. It would be a humorous book, with silly stories about the trouble my sister, brother and I got into while my parents were too busy running the business. I began collecting memories from family members, and waiting for a story to take shape. Then, my brother died unexpectedly, and the idea of writing our story was simply too hard. When my brother died, a woman gave me the poem by Merrit Malloy that Fern receives in the book. I must have read that poem, and in particular the last line, "When all that's left of me is love, give me away" a hundred times. In one way it comforted me, and in another, it reminded me that I would never see my brother again. And that was unbearable. It took me years to accept my brother's death, and to understand how to fill that void with love instead of constant sadness. But as I finally began to heal, I also wondered how I could "give him away," and what that meant. Eventually, of course, it became obvious. I would share our story after all. I imagined writing a book about our childhood as a gift to my brother, in which I could rewrite our past and make it kinder and more gentle. But, as with all stories, I quickly realized the characters forming on the page weren’t us, and fate had other plans for them. Ironically, by writing this story about strangers I came to love, I was able to understand my own family story perhaps even more clearly. By writing about someone else's loss, I was better able to come to terms and accept my own. And I think that was the gift my brother would have wanted most of all.
About the Author
I grew up in a very old, drafty farmhouse in a small New Hampshire town. My family had lots of animals while I was growing up: Dogs, cats, chickens, two ponies and three horses. My favorite pet was my pony, Smoky. He was already quite old when we adopted him, but he was a good sport about going to 4-H shows with me. I won a blue ribbon in my first ever show—the immensely challenging “Walk/Trot.” That show was a thrilling experience for both of us! Smoky lived to be over 30 years old. He was a good friend, even if he was stubborn and would only trot when heading back toward the barn.
I also grew up with lots of books. My mom and my sister were ALWAYS reading. I didn’t become “a reader” until high school, so I loved when my sister read to me. Even now, when I read certain books to my son that my sister read to me, it’s my sister’s voice I hear in my head.
My parents tried out lots of businesses when I was growing up. The first one I remember was called “Kellers’ Restaurant.” It was a family restaurant, but it was an ICE CREAM factory. Oh, we were popular children in the beginning.
Later my parents sold Kellers’ and bought a huge old Victorian home and converted it into a much fancier restaurant called The Hathaway House. The carriage house was converted to a bar and my brother, sister and I used to get into LOTS of trouble there. Our favorite hangout was the loft, where we’d lean through the wooden railing and try to throw popcorn into people’s drinks down below.
My favorite celebrity customer was Miss America. She brought my sister and me to her dressing room and showed us her “shoe” suitcase. We were very impressed. Another big celeb who ate there was John Travolta. This was a few years before Grease came out. Oh, if we’d only known!
I wrote some pretty amusing stories about The Hathaway House and other adventures when I was young. I think I always loved writing stories and poems about my family and pets. But it wasn’t until high school that I started to read. I have Robert Cormier’s The Chocolate War to thank for that. I’m convinced that is the book that turned me into an avid reader, and eventually a writer. There is something about the raw truth of that book that showed me how powerful words can be.
In college I took a children’s literature course, got hooked, and went to grad school to learn more. There, I took a course on writing for children. I loved it so much, I decided to write my first YA novel for my graduate thesis. That semester I was lucky enough to meet Robert Cormier, my hero. I told him how his book had turned me into “a reader.” He gave me his address and said to send him my novel when I finished. That message helped me finish my book. I sent it. He wrote back and told me I had talent, and that he hoped one day my book would be published with a blurb from him on the back. I have that letter framed in my office.
In February 2006, I sold my first novel, Lessons From A Dead Girl, to Candlewick Press. My dream of becoming a published author finally came true.
Now, I live in Vermont with my husband and son. I’m a freelance writer, and I work on my fiction whenever I can find the time. And I read. I try to read at least one novel a week. If you want to be a writer, I suggest you try to read a book a week, too. Reading makes us better writers. I’m a firm believer in that. (Bio obtained from author website)