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VINE VOICEon August 13, 2005
The closest I ever came to being locked up was in 1974 when, as a result of parting ways with a girlfriend, I found myself in possession of an extra ticket for Joni Mitchell's appearance at the Nassau Coliseum on her Court and Spark tour. Wandering around the venue well before the start of the show, I unwittingly offered to sell the extra ticket to an undercover Nassau County cop who responded by handcuffing me, dragging me into the Coliseum security office, and stripping me. As I wasn't "holding," I was eventually directed not to do anything stupid and released in time for the beginning of the show.

So, alas, I have no experience with joint jive (prison language). Fortunately for me and the younger fish (new prisoners) who get their hands on this book, Harry Sue precedes the telling of her amazing tale by providing an extensive Joint Jive Glossary so that we can understand what she's bumpin' her gums about.

Harriet Susan Clotkin has learned to speak in Conglish (a combination of joint jive and English). She's hoping to soon get over her softheartedness so that she can begin a life of crime, get herself sent up, and hopefully become reunited with the mother she hasn't seen or heard from since she was five, back when her parents were both sent to prison.

"Before we go any further, we have to go back. Way back. Seven years back, to the day of my accident. You can't fully appreciate the saga of Harry Sue unless you know the backstory. Every conette has a backstory. It's hard enough returning to the night that changed my life forever, but if it was up to my road dog, Homer, we'd go back even further.
"You see, Homer would argue that my father, Garnett Clotkin, didn't just show up to our apartment that night swearing and spitting like a rabid dog for no reason at all. Not everyone expresses their anger with violence. Garnett had to be trained to it.
" 'Maybe your granny tied his shoes too tight,' he'd offer, or 'Maybe it was her habit of dunking his head in toilet water when he sassed her.'
"I say, any way you slice it, it's still bread."

That fateful night, unable to convince his wife Mary Bell to take him back, Harry Sue's drunken father had angrily proceeded to throw his daughter out of the window--which happened to be seven stories up. Harry Sue fortunately ended up bouncing around in an elm tree through which she descended in a "slow motion game of pinball," ending up with "a severe case of bruising, a dislocated shoulder, and two broken ribs." Unfortunately, when her mother rushed downstairs after Harry Sue, "she forgot to put away the toy chemistry lab she'd set up on the table to make crystal methamphetamine, or crank as it's called on the street, an illegal drug she mostly used herself to stay awake while working the swing shift at the auto glass factory."

Both parents gone in one fell swoop.

Harry Sue's aforementioned paternal grandmother has always resented Mary Bell, the woman she believes ruined her son's life by getting pregnant. Granny also despises the product of that pregnancy. Unfortunately, Harry Sue has had to spend the past seven years doing time at her grandmother's house. And it's there that, to make a buck, Granny runs a home daycare operation called "Granny's Lap" that makes Christopher Paul Curtis' unscrupulous Sarge character look like a regular Mother Theresa. If there is anywhere that you can especially see the softness of Harry Sue's heart exposed, it's when she hangs out after school with the little "crumb snatchers," to whom she's all taught joint jive, and to whom she tells stories like "The Three Little Pork Rinds," and "Red the Hood."

The one person Harry Sue's always turned to is her longtime road dog (friend you know you can count on), Christopher Dinkins a.k.a. Homer Price.

"Homer's nick came from his habit of dreaming up inventions, and before the accident, building them, too.
"But that was all before he got slammed with, not a deuce, not an eight ball, not a dime, but an all day...Yes, it's true, Fish. Homer Price maxed out with a life sentence for the crime of diving off the Grand Haven pier."

Since surviving that headfirst dive into a rock, Christopher/Homer, who is now a quadriplegic, spends his days lying on his back, gazing out a window in the treehouse that he's designed in the backyard with a lift to get him and his bed up there. He dreams up inventions Harry Sue needs to get by and, in turn, she keeps him company and works hard to pull him out of the dark place he sometimes gets himself boxed into.

Life is a dark place for Harry Sue as well. Having read THE WIZARD OF OZ dozens of times, she sees parallels between her own life and that of Dorothy Gale's. As Harry Sue works on her plans to save the crumb snatchers and to figure out which joint her mother is locked away in, and as Homer tries to make sense of his life without moving parts, new and unusual teachers enter each of their lives.

Despite the edginess of the premise, this is a middle school book free of sexual content and so-called "bad words." As the author details in her "Notes and Acknowledgments," the numerous issues the reader confronts in the book are all based upon real-life incidents. Between the craftsmanship, the issues and, especially, the high-interest, reader-friendly quality of this delightful tale written in joint jive, this is certainly a book that is custom made for teaching in sixth and seventh grades, and a must-have for middle school libraries.

As I'll be telling my own crew, you'd have to be a J-Cat to pass up reading this one.

Richie Partington
(...)
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on August 11, 2005
"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
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on September 8, 2005
"Just because he knew nothing short of a miracle could make his dream come true didn't stop Homer Price from helping me realize mine."
Harry Sue (nick for Harriet Susan)

Not many books today start with a glossary, but to understand Harry Sue, you need to read and refer to the Joint Jive Glossary.

Harry Sue's parents both went to prison, leaving her with next of kin, the horrible granny of nightmares. Now the father (a con) is dead, and the mother is a conette, serving time for drug dealing, and serving it without being in contact with her only child.

The story contains many different kinds of prisons: sadness and loss; actual incarceration; limits of being a quadriplegic; unmet expectations; and of course, not being loved and cared for.

Filled with prison 'joint jive,' at times I was confused by the words, but the rich characters and situations were well worth the struggle.

Harry Sue, age 11, is convinced the only way she will see ever mother again is to become a conette herself. She acts tough, but her soft heart gives her away at every turn. Her best friend, before and after a diving accident that left him a quadriplegic, form an alliance best described by the quote above. We should all be so lucky to have a friend like that.

The author is a journalist who has conducted writing workshops for women in prison who are separated from their children, imprisoned for their drug use. [...] The author tells us in promotional materials that between 1977 and 2001 the number of female prisoners in the U.S. grew 592%. Harry Sue gives voice to those children -- disenfranchised boys and girls grappling with the humiliation of having a parent in prison.

I am not sure what age this book is best for, perhaps age 12 and up. For any age, it WILL bring up questions

Armchair Interviews says: This would be a good book for a discussion group of young adults as it brings up the different aspects of being young (both good and bad). It is a thought-provoking and well-written book with a message that will linger.
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If the world doesn't sit up and take note of Ms. Sue Stauffacher soon, I'm gonna have to start rolling some heads. It makes no sense to me that while authors like Kate DiCamillo, Joan Bauer, and Sharon Creech hog the spotlight collectively, no one's given Ms. Stauffacher her due. I suspect this may be because her last name is difficult to spell/pronounce. Perhaps she should consider a pen name. Something catchy like, Greatest Living Children's Author, perhaps. I had read Ms. Stauffacher's previous work, "Donuthead" and had been impressed. A person doesn't pull off a book lugging around the moniker "Donuthead" without some serious writing cajones. The buzz surrounding her next work, "Harry Sue" was good right from the get-go. By now I've read this book cover to cover and I am convinced that this is star material. What we have here is a children's author that's going places. Ms. Stauffacher has that rare ability to suffuse her works with hope without ever overdoing it. Even when she's giving (as Harry Sue would say) a "sucker punch to the heart", you never resent her for it. What we have here, ladies and gentlemen, is pure undiluted talent.

First things first. If you're gonna read this book then you're gonna have to immerse yourself in a little Conglish first. See, the hero of this tale is Harry Sue. Harry Sue is a gal (YES, a gal) with a mother in jail and a father who was knifed in the joint. Her primo ambition is to be reunited with her mother (busted on an ill-placed meth lab) by becoming a steel hearted conette. Harry Sue knows all the jail lingo (she provides a helpful Conglish glossary at the book's start) but the steel heart part of the plan... well that's not turning out so well. See, Harry Sue's got a soft spot for a whole lot of different people. She currently lives with the mother of all negligent day care providers, her Granny. Granny may know how to put on a good show for the parents that drop off their crumb snatchers daily, but it's Harry Sue who's trying to find a way to bust 'em out of "Granny's Lap" (the name of the center). Along the way, she has the words of wisdom from "The Wizard of Oz" (NOT the movie), her best friend Homer Price (currently living without the use of his limbs), and her new art teacher, Baba. Things may go up and down with Harry Sue, but when you've already survived a ninety-foot drop delivered care of dear old dad, you're willing to believe that life's got a whole lot of surprises and shocks in store.

This has ALL the makings of a sappy sugar-infused heartwarming puppy-dogs-and-ice-cream book. It has a girl who's mother is in jail, a quadriplegic friend, an honest-to-God Lost Boy of the Sudan, a host of adorable tots, and even a puppy at the end. Can you think of a better recipe for disaster? I mean, the quadriplegic I could maybe stomach, but a LOST BOY???? I say this and yet somehow, miraculously, Stauffacher pulls it off. Part of this has to do with the writing. When Harry Sue visits her pal Homer Price (so nicknamed for his crazed inventing ideas) she knows that he's been crying. "I knew because I could smell Homer's tears. At least to me, they smell like hot pavement after rain". Stauffacher has a way of dotting her serious moments with humor and her humorous moments with pain. The characters of the book are what really set it apart from the pack, though. Stauffacher stops being safe when she introduces the J-Cat (crazy) home health aid that comes to give Homer Price a grueling lesson in appreciating life. With my all-seeing eyes I can know that in the not-too distant future overly uptight and concerned parents with gasp in shock at some of the J-Cat's techniques, even as they find that neither they nor their children can quite tear their eyes away from the text.

Then there's that whole "The Wonderful Wizard of Oz" thing. Seen through Harry Sue's eyes, Dorothy Gale is a pretty good role model. When Harry Sue saves the life of a girl she inadvertently almost killed, she wonders why she went and did such a good deed (thereby keeping her from ever becoming a hardened con). "Why couldn't I be more like Dorothy? She wastes two witches without even trying and doesn't lose sleep over it". Dorthy Gale. Witch killer. It makes sense when you think of it that way. With Harry Sue as your guide, you understand the fascination with Dorothy and the friends (or, in Conglish, road dogs) who constantly save her "gingham-checked butt". There are direct correlations between the two books too. When a kindly old neighbor kisses Harry Sue on the forehead, anyone who knows L. Frank Baum's classic tale knows what THAT means. Homer Price is her scarecrow, limply lying on a bed with a whiz of a brain. Even the dog Otto who appears late in the tale can have his letters rearranged to a familiar name. Stauffacher likes word games and playing with monikers. You could probably have said the same for Mr. Baum.

Reading "Harry Sue", a person well-versed in children's literature has to keep batting away various other literary stars from clouding the text. Sometimes the book seems drenched in "The Great Gilly Hopkins". I wouldn't be surprised at all to find Harry Sue a descendent of that fellow delinquent gal. Of course, for all that I love "Gilly", I'm probably going to reread "Harry Sue", more often. It's more intelligent than it has any right to be and more fun that half the books out there today. Ms. Stauffacher gets better each time she publishes a book. At this rate, by the time she publishes her seventh or eight the things'll be emitting beams of light from between their pages. If you want something honestly touching but doesn't talk down to you or drown you in treacle, "Harry Sue" is the must-read kids' book of 2005. No question about it.
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on December 1, 2006
Harry Sue is an 11year-old girl trying to find her juvenile mother who has been in jail since Harry Sue was a little girl. She lives with her Grandma. Her grandma runs a daycare business and makes Harry Sue help out while she sits on their porch and smokes a cigar. Harry Sue is a girl on a mission.

Harry Sue talks in what she calls the "Joint Jive". She ¬invented the Joint Jive and uses it all the time. There is a whole dictionary of words in the beginning of the book. She and her Road Dog (a friend that you can trust), Homer, made it up so that they could talk to each other and no one would know what they're saying. Some of the book is hard to understand because of the language.

Harry Sue likes to annoy her grandma and her grandma's two helpers, Synchronicity and Serendipity. She takes her Grandma's precious little porcelain figures and holds them hostage to get things like food and water. Her bed is at the top of the stairs on a little rug. She doesn't have many friends except at school. Her only real friend is Homer. He thinks up schemes and makes them come alive. He is paralyzed from his shoulders down. He uses his tongue to do most things we do with our hands. She is very close with Homer. Harry Sue has other wacky friends like Anna, a red haired chiropractor with a lot of energy, and her friend Baba, her favorite substitute teacher. She is close with these people and gets closer with them throughout the book.

I have never met anyone at all like Harry Sue. She is unique and wild. She is someone I would like to meet and spend a day with to see how she lives. I think it would be fun to interview her. I think I would learn a lot. She has taught herself a lot without her mother. She has learned a lot for not being near a responsible adult in eight years. She is an inspiring character.

I liked the book a lot. I thought it sent a good message and is a great book for kids in grades 5-8. It is a very adventurous book. It makes you want to read from the beginning to the end in one sitting. It is a book that I think everyone should read at least once in their lifetime.
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on October 8, 2005
Tell all your road dogs (friends you can trust), so they'll know it's worth doing time with 11-year-old Harry Sue Clotkin, the first person narrator of Sue Stauffacher's new novel.

Harry Sue's on a mission to become a juvenile delinquent, so she can join her mom in prison. But her path to the hoosegow keeps getting detoured, when her heart steers her in another direction.

With an homage to L. Frank Baum and Dickensian characters, Sue Stauffacher knows her away both around the joint and a good story!
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VINE VOICEon May 12, 2007
It must be said: The premise and aspects of the plot of this book are a little contrived, occasionally even didactic. There. Now that I've gotten that out of the way, let me tell you--I really liked Harry Sue! Not just the book, the girl (and she seems like a girl, not a mere character). There's a little bit of Roald Dahl here with the awful adult guardian and cousins, but then, the tense home situation also reads like a Young Adult problem novel. All of this fades in the face of Harry Sue's personality--Harry Sue, who is hoping to learn to be a good con (yes, a jail resident) so she can go looking for her mother, who's been incarcerated and cut off from contact with her. Oh, and there's some Cinderella going on, too, as Harry Sue dresses in rags and tries to take care of the little kids in her evil grandmother's daycare center. Another striking character is Harry Sue's best friend, a quadriplegic who basically lives in a treehouse. Did I mention that Harry Sue teaches us jailhouse slang and tells the little kids fairy tales she revises so that they are set in jail? A couple of eccentric fairy godmother types round out the cast, and of course Harry Sue keeps trying to find her mother, so there's a quest element... Just be patient with the soap opera plot twists and come along for the ride. It'll be worth it to meet Harry Sue.
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on November 10, 2011
Harry Sue is raised by her neglectful grandmother, because both her parents are in jail. HS is determined to become a criminal in order to reunite with her mother, she is striving Problem is Harry Sue's too good. Her soft heart keeps getting in the way.

Her best friend, Homer, is a quadriplegic that lives in a tree house., The way Harry Sue sees it, Homer's got a life sentence. A wacky therapist is showing him how to live. As Homer starts to have a life, Harry Sue finds glimmers of light in her own life. Maybe prison isn't the answer.

Peppered with prison lingo Stauffacher introduces readers to a complex character struggling with the good and bad aspects of her inner self. Harry Sue so wants to be bad, but she just doesn't have it in her to be bad like she wants and believes she needs to be. Written for children in grades 4-7 the complexity of the protagonist is at once simple and complex and can be enjoyed by readers of all ages.
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on January 3, 2008
Harry Sue would be appalled to know that you can't help but love her in this unique take on "Life with Granny". She wants to be as tough as nails but her big heart keeps getting in the way of her convict ambitions. The language (a combination of jail joint jive and "Conglish", the convict's version of English) keeps the book jumping but never gets in the way or feels contrived. I recommend this book for any kid from 10 to 100! Never sappy, never sentimental, Harry Sue manages to find her way through!
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on September 20, 2014
Terrible. Couldn't finish it. Such a shame. Her book Donuthead was great.
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