I’ve been really excited about this book ever since I first heard about it a couple of years ago, not only because I’m a big fan of Jo’s writing, but because this particular story was inspired by her childhood experiences of growing up in the restaurant business in Laconia, New Hampshire.*swoon*
Could there be anything better than having your family own a restaurant that’s also an ice cream factory?! Bring me Apple Orchard Pancakes and a Spanish Omelette for breakfast, a Knickerbocker Sandwich for lunch, Stuffed Hamburg Casserole for dinner (extra cheese, ham and mushrooms, please!), and of course, a hot fudge sundae, root beer float or strawberry ice cream cone every day after school. Yum — my idea of culinary heaven! It had to have been fun getting to know some of the customers, helping out with odd jobs, and seeing how large quantities of ice cream was made.
But where are my manners? Before I give you the full scoop on this wonderful book, a few delectable party favors.
First, please put on your official party t-shirt :
Next, pick a party hat — ice cream sundae or ice cream cones?
You look adorable.
Now, choose your favorite color and size ice cream scooper.
Finally, which ice cream dish would you like? Make your own sundae as you’re reading this post — use any of the ingredients you see floating around. ☺
If you’ve read any of Jo’s previous books (Lessons from a Dead Girl, Jumping Off Swings, Pearl), you know she’s especially gifted at writing about difficult, emotionally-charged subjects with grace and sensitivity. In See You at Harry’s, we see how one American family copes with an unimaginable tragedy.
The story is narrated by twelve-year-old Fern, a middle child who feels invisible and forgotten. Her dad is preoccupied with promoting their restaurant, while her mom is usually off meditating.
Prickly and lonely, Fern’s older sister Sara is “working” at the restaurant, filling in a gap year since she didn’t get into any of the “good colleges,” and her older brother Holden is struggling with his sexual identity. The darling of the family is three-year-old Charlie, a surprise baby who craves attention and usually gets it. Typically rambunctious and sometimes annoying, he’s also an abundant source of joy and comic relief for everyone at home and at the restaurant.
Jo writes from the heart, for the heart, and with See You at Harry’s, she brilliantly creates a realistic, wholly relatable emotional landscape. Each of the characters is fully realized and well developed; we care about and understand where they’re coming from at the start, so that when their world is suddenly shattered, our hearts break right along with theirs.
The aftermath of tragedy, with its psychological implosions of denial, anger, guilt, blame, fear, regret, and consummate grief are skillfully rendered in touching scenes that invariably ring true without resorting to melodrama or the maudlin. The ups and downs of family dynamics, whether parent-child or sibling-sibling, make for an absorbing narrative, as we see how bit by bit, small step by small step, this family moves toward a place of healing because of the love they have for each other.
I don’t want to say too much more for fear of being spoiler-y, but did want to mention that Fern is positively luminous as a main character, so-named after the Fern in E.B. White’s Charlotte’s Web, for having “a special soul,” being a “good friend” and “hero.” I especially like her relationships with Holden (unconditional love and acceptance) and best friend Random Smith (a beacon of existential calm). Story threads involving issues of bullying, coming out, and sibling rivalry are beautifully interwoven — adding texture, deepening emotional layers, and further underscoring the belief that while each of us grieves in our own way, sharing that grief kindles renewed hope.
See You at Harry’s has already earned a starred review from Kirkus, who said, “Prescient writing, fully developed characters and completely, tragically believable situations elevate this sad, gripping tale to a must-read level.” It’s also an Amazon Best Book of the Month for May, and blog reviewers have unanimously praised its intense emotional impact (“heartrending,” “read with Kleenex handy,” “sobbing uncontrollably”). For its soul-nourishing emotional truths, artful depiction of familial relationships, and flat-out beautiful writing, I’m happy to give this novel my highest five spoon rating!
So, have you finished making your sundae yet? You’ve already eaten it? Not to worry — we have lots more grub, compliments of Harry’s Homemade Ice Cream and Family Restaurant. But first, let’s all congratulate Jo with our customary celebration soup.
Yes, we’re serving it in our favorite ice cream dish, and Cornelius helped by eating an entire quart of hand-dipped fudge revel while I was carefully placing the letters. Just for today, dip deep with your ice cream scoop and make sure to SLURP with more than customary gusto. “If you haven’t been to Harry’s, you haven’t been to heaven!” Here’s to Jo!
Now, to go with your soup, a couple of things you might order at Harry’s. First, a good burger (close your eyes, vegetarians):
A little spaghetti marinara:
Maybe a nice club sandwich:
At home, Fern’s dad made chocolate chip pancakes:
Yes, yes — I know you’re all about dessert, even after
inhaling finishing the sundae you made yourself. We’re pleased to offer one of Jo’s favorite snacks, a giant Hostess Cupcake,
and her favorite sundae when she was little, her father’s special Peppermint Hot Fudge:
Finally, to top off this gargantuan feast, a banana split (come on, you had to know this was coming!):
All righty. You know the drill. Wipe that last bit of hot fudge off your face and zip over to your local indie or click through to your fave online bookseller to score your very own copy of See You at Harry’s. If you go to a bricks and mortar store, wear a neon-colored t-shirt with an enigmatic word on the front (suggestions: Chill, Be, Glow). Bring an ice cream cone for the cashier and don’t forget the secret password if you want a discount: Peppermint. Extra points for shouting, “See You at Harry’s!” to everyone on the way out.
Thanks for writing this wonderful book, Jo. Heartfelt Congratulations! We Love You!!
SEE YOU AT HARRY’S
written by Jo Knowles
published by Candlewick Press, May 2012
Middle Grade Fiction for ages 10+, 310 pp.
Cool themes: Families, Siblings, Grief/Loss, Friendship, Restaurants, Schools/Bullying, Homosexuality, Hope and Healing, Social Situations.
*Available in hardcover, electronic and audio formats
- “Meet You at Keller’s/See You at Harry’s” — features a few memories and menu pages from Keller’s (the “real” Harry’s). Aforementioned Hamburg Casserole only $2.15!
- “On Fear, Pain, Truth, Letting Go and Gratitude, AKA How Harry’s Came to Be”
♥ Interview at Book Browse focusing on Jo’s childhood restaurant experiences!
♥ Jo talks Cover Stories with Melissa Walker.
♥ Interview with Libba Bray: another chance to win a copy of the book!
♥ Blog Reviews:
♥ More Soup of the Day posts here.
For a chance to win a brand new copy of See You at Harry’s, simply leave a comment at this post telling us your favorite ice cream flavor no later than midnight (EDT) Tuesday, May 15, 2012. Extra entries for blogging, FBing, Tweeting, etc. (mention in your comment).
You may also enter by sending an email to: readermail (at) jamakimrattigan (dot) com, with “HARRY’S” in the subject line. Giveaway open to U.S. residents only, please. Good luck!
This post is being linked to Beth Fish Read’s Weekend Cooking, where all are invited to share food related posts (book/cookbook/movie reviews, recipes, photos, etc.).
- Menu Template via Vincent Caplier
- Burger via mooshee85
- Spaghetti ala Marinara via World to Table
- Chocolate Chip Pancakes with Cinnamon Cream via Paula Deen Cakes
- Peppermint Hot Fudge Sundae via All You
- Banana Split via Ice Cream Journal/Turkey Hill Dairy
- Ice Cream Sundae hat by Little Lids.com
- Ice Cream Cones Cap available at Zazzle.com
- Hot Fudge Sauce via Everyday Insanity
- Ice Cream Flavors by Getty Images via Slash Food
- Waffle Cone Ice Cream via Cutest Food
- Club Sandwich via Havanhotel
Copyright © 2012 Jama Rattigan of Jama’s Alphabet Soup. All rights reserved.