See You At Harry’s by Jo Knowles

See you at Harry's

Genre:  Realistic Fiction

Series?  No

Audience Age:  12-16

Rating (1-5):  3

The story in no more than five sentences:

Middle school for Fern is off to a bad start.   Her family owns a restaurant and her dad has created a commercial that features every member of the family shouting “See You At Harry’s!”  Her older brother Holden, mercilessly teased at school for being gay, seems to be withdrawing from the family and towards his much older boyfriend.  The one bright spot is that she is growing closer to her cute friend Rand and he has a way of making everything seem alright.  When a tragic event occurs, the bonds within Fern’s family are tested to their utmost limits.

 The best part about the book in 1 sentence:

­­­­­­­­­­The best part of this book is the realistic and open portrayal of Holden’s sexuality in High School.

The worst part of the book in 1 sentence:

The worst part of this book is the cover that does not capture the inner tension within the book.

1 interesting note about the author:

Jo Knowles’s parents actually owned a restaurant in New Hampshire where she grew up.  Find out more at


Taste of Salt: A Story of Modern Haiti by Frances Temple

     I often enjoy books that immerse me in other times and cultures, especially when I know very little about them.  Having little knowledge of modern politics in Haiti, Frances Temple’s A Taste of Salt was an engaging and eye opening book for me.

 The story centers around two young characters: Djo and Jeremie.  Djo is a young man who has grown up in the streets of Port Au Prince.  Abandoned by his family from an early age due to their poverty, Djo finds a home at Lafanmi Selavi, a shelter set up by the Catholic priest Jean –Bertrand Aristide.   Having a little schooling, Djo is able to become a teacher there, instructing the other street boys in reading and writing.  As time passes, Titid (Aristide) begins speaking out more and more on the injustices in Haiti.  Titid and his street children, including Djo, are marked for attack by the prevailing political order and their terrifying henchmen the Tonton macoutes.   But there are other threats as well as Djo learns when he is kidnapped, and transported to the Dominican Republic to cut cane on a sugar plantation.

Jeremie, a young woman in Port Au Prince, is also born into poverty, but her home life is more stable.  Her mother and aunt push her to work hard in school in the hopes that she will pull herself out of La Saline, the name of the slum in which she lives.  With this in mind she wins many awards in school, but she finds that she cannot escape the brutal political violence of Haiti.  After witnessing a massacre at a voting location and then the destruction of Titid’s church St. Jean Busco, Jeremie realizes that she must use her energy to help transform Haiti.

I thought that this book was an excellent read because it was both entertaining and educational.  I particularly enjoyed reading about Djo’s resourceful ways in which he deals with the horrendous life of cutting cane in Dominicae.  A Taste of Salt was published in 1992 and won the Jane Addam’s Children’s Book Award.  I’d recommend it to any young reader who wants to know more about Haiti, how underprivileged people cope with a dictatorial regime, and whether change is possible in broken societies.

A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness

 The monster comes just after midnight for thirteen year old Connor O’Malley.  The yew tree in the church yard across from his house folds itself into the shape of a large man and lowers its eye to Connor’s window.  It demands his attention.

But that isn’t the scariest thing in Connor’s life right now: his mother is dying from cancer.  She scarcely has the strength to make it out of bed these days and the new treatments don’t seem to be working.  His grandmother, abrupt and not inclined towards sweetness, has begun visiting more frequently to help out and make Connor’s days more unbearable.  His father, who lives in America, has also made plans to come see him through this difficult time.

Things are also going terribly at school.  The local bullies, sensing his sorrow, have made a target of him.  But perhaps their attention is almost better than being ignored by the rest of his classmates.

And then there is the monster.  It says that it will tell him 3 tales.  And then Connor must tell it the 4th.  These stories, through their confusion and harsh realities, disrupt him even further and put him face to face with his most dreaded nightmare of all.

I loved this book, but felt that it was really an adult novel.  It wasn’t the language or content, but rather the theme of death and sorrow that makes it more inclined towards older readers.  This is a sad tale, but I found it cathartic.

Ages 13+ Young Adult Fiction

Lunch-box Dream by Tony Abbott

It is the summer of 1959 and Bobby and his brother Ricky are on a road trip with their mother and grandmother driving from Cleveland, Ohio down to Florida.  The reason for the trip is to drive grandma back home, but on their way they are touring Civil War battlefields.

Much farther south, an African American boy by the name of Jacob is taking the bus from Atlanta to go visit some relatives that live out in the country in Dalton, Georgia.   He will spend a week there fishing with his uncle and spending time with his cousin.

Despite the seemingly pleasant circumstances surrounding both of these trips, each boy soon finds that disturbing events are beginning to affect their lives.  Touring Civil War battlefields across the country, Bobby slowly realizes that his mother has decided on this trip to get them away from their abusive father and for her to decide if she wants to end the marriage.  While in Dalton, Georgia, Jacob discovers that his big city behavior, his whistling and carrying on, does not sit well with the white people in the small town.

As the book progresses, the reader slowly realizes that we are watching these families geographically moving towards each other and, perhaps, to an explosion of violence.  The tension soon rises on both sides.  Bobby’s mother crashes the car outside of Chickamauga in a spasm of fear trying to drive away from some well intentioned black people.  They will have to take the bus home.  Meanwhile, Jacob has turned up missing in Dalton.  His family back in Atlanta boards the very same bus in hysteria knowing, just knowing, that their boy has been killed by some country whites.

Author Tony Abbott deftly builds up each of the characters, exposing a history of violence and abuse in both families.   The ending is as touching as it is painful and leaves open the questions of how these young men will continue to navigate a world and society that is fundamentally unjust.  Excellent YA literature dealing with racism, family ties, abuse, brothers, and road trips.