"It's time you learned something for real. Not all prisoners have four concrete walls and a steel bunk. I say prison is a lot like home. It all depends on where your heart is."
There are certain characters in literature who leave a lasting effect on all who come in contact with them. This is especially the case in young adult books where the protagonists are still under the spell of adolescence and therefore subject to temptation, change, and various outside influences they don't quite understand. Unlike their fully developed adult counterparts, these fledgling youths are still learning the ways of the world and have not yet become jaded or afraid to try, to feel, or to be erratically irrational and exuberant in their actions and outlook on life. It is precisely this combination of vulnerability and strength that makes them so endearingly lovable, admirable, and timeless.
In Sue Stauffacher's extraordinary new novel, HARRY SUE, the 11-year-old heroine who shares the title's name is a feisty firecracker of a girl with tough skin and an outspoken attitude. She is fiercely independent and so confident that her path is the right one that she will challenge anyone who disagrees with her --- including the school principal, her teachers, her Granny, and even her best friend Homer before the accident. With Harry Sue Clotkin, however, there is more --- much more --- than meets the eye.
When Harry Sue was younger, her deadbeat father threw her out of their apartment window in order to get back at her mother, who was cooking crack on the kitchen table. When the cops came to carry the two away to prison, they were shocked to find the little girl, who had miraculously escaped the seven-story fall with only a few bruised ribs. As both parents were incapacitated, she was immediately sent to live with her grandmother, a decrepit old woman who "ran" a daycare center by keeping the children drugged with cold medicine so as to prevent any misbehaving. Not soon after, her best friend Homer hit his head on a rock while diving off a pier and became paralyzed from the neck down. At such a young age, Harry Sue had already experienced her fair share of tragedy.
So, how else to wind up imprisoned like her parents or Homer than to try to get sent to the proverbial slammer herself? What better way to "do her own time" like the ones she loved than to rack up detentions at school, play tricks on her classmates, teach Granny's charges prison-talk, and keep herself as detached as possible from life's possibilities. Fortunately, with Harry Sue, nothing is quite that simple or that easy.
From saving a classmate's life at school, to acting as a surrogate daytime mother to an army of "crumb snatchers," to being the rock of hope and humor for Homer in his slow-going recovery, Harry Sue inadvertently sabotages all hopes of being "locked down" and instead emerges as a role model for all who know her. By living from her heart and embracing the world around her, she learns that "doing her own time" might not be as bad --- or as isolating --- as she thinks.
With this warm and deeply insightful novel, Sue Stauffacher again has proven her prowess as a writer and a champion of what's possible in the face of tragedy. Her allusion to L. Frank Baum's THE WONDERFUL WIZARD OF OZ will delight readers, who will want to read the book twice for hidden parallels, and the "Joint Jive Glossary" at the beginning will provide a welcome authenticity to the book's context. In short, "time, my friend, is something you have too much of, and you'll learn that a story well told --- even if it's full of joint jive you can't fully comprehend --- is worth more than all the personals you collected on the outs. Especially if it lifts you out of your skin."
Reviewed by Alexis Burling on April 10, 2007
- Publication Date: April 10, 2007
- Paperback: 304 pages
- Publisher: Yearling
- ISBN-10: 0440420644
- ISBN-13: 9780440420644