See You at Harry’s – Jo Knowles

See You at Harry’s by Jo Knowles

My rating: 3.5 of 5 stars
Received: Publisher
Publication Date: May 8th, 2012
Publisher: Candlewick Press
Point of View: 1st Person & Feminine
Recommended Age: 10+
Pacing: Slow
Genres & Themes: YA/MG, Death, Family, Contemporary, LGBT


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.

Too often, stories centering on characters that have lost a loved one—so death, loss and grief—do not introduce the departed in a way that familiarises us with the latter. In those cases, it’s hard for me to care about the dead characters.

But SEE YOU AT HARRY’S is especially emotional and impactful because we do spend quite some time with the character whose fate is a tragic one. It’s easier for the reader to understand emotional reactions to loss when they’ve met the deceased and got attached to them.

Jo Knowles wrote a story both heartbreaking and hopeful. I have been lucky enough to not have lost anyone close to me, not anyone that I remember losing. But what Fern and her family feel is exactly what I’d imagine feeling if someone in my family had died. Everything is very realistically portrayed.

This is a hopeful story because it doesn’t only describe the sorrowful reactions of the characters—it shows that life is possible after death. There is one especially moving scene in which Fern struggles with the idea of taking the love she has for the deceased and giving it away, as per the recommendation of the minister.

It’s a book full of wisdom. It’s not a dark story, but it deals with heavy subjects, like death, grief, bullying and even depression, though not as much. There are plenty of beautiful and light scenes to balance the atmosphere. I’m incredibly happy I gave this book a chance. What powerful family dynamics!

I have to complain about the manipulation, however. We are pushed to like a certain character who in the end matters no more. The heroine herself mentions she likes this character at different occasions and suddenly decides they aren’t worthy anymore. Also, the heroine is twelve, so technically this is middle grade, but it has such a YA vibe. She should have been older. And the love interest was not necessary. Their romantic scenes were anticlimactic.

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