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Sure Signs of Crazy Hardcover

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Best of the Month in Middle Grade
This title has been selected as an August 2013 Amazon Editors' Pick for the Best Books of the Month: Middle Grade (ages 9-12). See more of our Editors' Picks.

Product Details

  • Age Range: 9 and up
  • Grade Level: 4 and up
  • Hardcover: 288 pages
  • Publisher: Little, Brown Books for Young Readers (August 20, 2013)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0316210587
  • ISBN-13: 978-0316210584
  • Product Dimensions: 7.7 x 5.4 x 1.1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 12 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (26 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #278,308 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From School Library Journal

Gr 6-9–Sarah Nelson is dreading the seventh-grade family tree project and hoping her alcoholic father, a college professor, will move them from Garland, Texas, by summer's end. That has been their pattern whenever local acquaintances discover, usually through a resurfacing news story about two notorious court trials, that Sarah is the sole survivor of her mother's attempt to drown her two-year-old twins 10 years earlier. With a plant as her only confidante, she conducts imaginary conversations with her dead brother and looks for signs of insanity in herself as she puzzles over the twice-yearly cryptic greeting cards from her mother, a patient in a home for the insane in Wichita. An end-of-sixth-grade letter-writing assignment has Sarah sharing her loneliness and confusion with an idealized father, Atticus Finch, from To Kill a Mockingbird. But at least her own father has agreed to spare her a boring summer with her grandparents in Houston, deciding instead to leave her in the charge of a college student. Charlotte's romantic preoccupations, benign neglect, and attractive brother who shares Sarah's love of words start her on a road to self-discovery and give her the courage to challenge her father's well-intended but misguided attempts to shield her from her past. Sarah is an introspective protagonist whose narrative, interspersed with letters and word definitions, keeps readers absorbed. The horrific premise is not belabored, and the focus remains on the plight of a girl juggling the normal challenges of adolescence with a complex family situation. Secondary characters add interest and texture to this compelling novel.–Marie Orlando, formerly at Suffolk Cooperative Library System, Bellport, NYα(c) Copyright 2013. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

From Booklist

*Starred Review* For the opening of her middle-grade debut, Harrington cuts right to the heart of her narrator’s grim situation: “You’ve never met anyone like me. Unless, of course, you’ve met someone who survived her mother trying to drown her and now lives with an alcoholic father.” Sarah Nelson was 2 when that happened; now she is turning 12 in a small Texas town and “looking for any signs of going crazy.” Don’t think this will be a hard sell to readers, though, for Harrington has created a protagonist who is, in her own way, as clear-eyed, tough-minded, and inspiring as any dystopian hero. Sarah faces down threats from all sides: “The more information I gather, the better I can defend myself against the world, against the brain inside me that may or may not be like hers.” And even as her father repeatedly fails her (as when he drank and slept through her birthday), Sarah finds allies and role models, from an English teacher to a home-from-college neighbor to Atticus Finch, who shows Sarah how to be a caring human being. Harrington doesn’t leave out humor—she has fun with Sarah’s romantic illusions—but makes it clear that it’s Sarah’s courage and urge to communicate that will push her beyond her traumatic childhood. Grades 5-8. --Abby Nolan

More About the Author

Karen Harrington was born and raised in Texas, where she still lives with her husband, children and one sneaky dog.

Visit her at

Customer Reviews

4.6 out of 5 stars
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See all 26 customer reviews
Great book for middle schoolers.
Live Outside
Thank you Karen Harrington for creating Sarah.
Books Come Alive
It made you feel like you knew her.

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

6 of 6 people found the following review helpful By Toy Loving Momma on September 10, 2013
Format: Kindle Edition
1. highly extraordinary or prodigious; exceptional

That is what I think of this wonderful book by Karen Harrington. Sarah Nelson is a newly minted twelve year old who just happens to be a logophile. She also has a pet plant that she confides in and her favorite novel is To Kill a Mockingbird.

How could I not love a kid like that? Sarah just wants to have a great summer for once in her life. Unfortunately, she and her alcoholic dad are always trying to keep one step ahead of a devastating secret about her mother. Sarah is always worried that she will turn out too much like her parents, and this causes her to continually question herself and her actions.

This novel was well done and I would recommend it to ages 11 and up. I would caution recommending this for the 9 to 10 year olds that are usually included in the middle-grade reader group, because of an implied sexual attack and because of the crime Sarah's mother committed.

I am so glad I had the chance to read and review this novel I won on goodreads, and as usual my review is unbiased.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By K. M. Martin VINE VOICE on September 7, 2013
Format: Hardcover
SURE SIGNS OF CRAZY is the story of a momentous summer in the life of Sarah Nelson. She has just finished sixth grade and turned twelve. Her best friend Lisa has gone away to camp and Sarah has finally convinced her father that she is old enough not to be sent to her grandparents' house for the summer vacation. Sarah and her father have lived many places in Texas and are currently in Garland. Each time they are spotted, they have moved.

Sarah's mother is infamous because she tried to kill Sarah and successfully killed Sarah's twin brother Simon when they were two year old. Since then, she has been in a mental asylum and Sarah has only seen her twice. Sarah's father also went to trial regarding the incident but was acquitted. Whenever reporters find and harass them, they move on.

Sarah spends the summer taking care of Plant and writing letters to Atticus Finch in her journal. Her favorite book is To Kill a Mockingbird and she has adopted Atticus as the mentor and father she wishes she had. Her own father is an alcoholic and Sarah spends a lot of time in the role of caregiver.

Sarah has an articulate voice and a fascination with words while still have the world view of a twelve-year-old. She is a faithful observer of those around her but her observations are colored by lack of context because of her lack of maturity. She grows up a lot this summer. She has her first crush (on a very nice young man), confronts her father, and helps an elderly neighbor deal with the loss of her husband.

Pair this one with To Kill a Mockingbird. It would also be a great book to use for a classroom literature study.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By Pop Bop TOP 500 REVIEWER on November 25, 2013
Format: Kindle Edition
This book is not at all well served by the professional reviews on the Amazon page that suggest this is a dreary tale of trauma, kitchen sink conflict, dread and survival. It sounds so grim and heavy handed. It isn't. The over-the-top framing story is an attention grabber, but the exaggerated premise mainly allows for all sorts of creative variations on the coming-of-age theme, and allows the author to lead the character Sarah through wildly imaginative, clever, witty and touching emotions, insights and predicaments that just wouldn't be possible with a more mundane approach. Her Mom's crazy, her Dad's an alcoholic, her brother was drowned at age two by crazy Mom, she was almost drowned, her best friend is a plant she talks to, and she is on guard to see if she's going crazy. That sounds to me like a normal twelve year old's head, just amped up a bit for effect.

And that's what you get. Do me a favor and scroll up and read the sample chapter. I'll wait....Good. If you liked that you'll like the book. Sarah is flinty, romantic, observant, articulate and good hearted. Before Atticus Finch showed up in the book I had already seen Sarah as a modern, more sophisticated and more articulate Scout character. The letters to Finch just sort of confirm that the reader and the author and Sarah are all on the same page and understand what's going on.

The two greatest joys of this book are getting to spend time with Sarah, who is easily one of the most appealing characters I've encountered in quite a while, and in enjoying the remarkably accomplished and yet restrained writing. On any page you can find a sentence that is just right - spare, delicate, and balanced, with arresting and appropriate word choices, phrasing and tone.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By A. H. Wagner on September 10, 2013
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
Dear Sarah Nelson,

I'm writing to tell you how much I enjoyed the story you share in your own words called Sure Signs of Crazy (by Karen Harrington, who helped you write it down). It makes me so sad that your mom tried to drown you when you were only two years old. How hard it must have been for you to grow up without your mom, since she was confined to a mental health facility. On top of that, when your dad drinks too much and forgets to take you out for your twelfth birthday, and the only best friend you have to confide in is a plant you've taken from one rental home to another as you and your dad try to stay one step ahead of the awful media that is always digging up your family's past--well, it sounds to me like you're in a really depressing situation.

But your buoyancy amazes and inspires me. You find joy in the little things, like collecting your favorite words, writing letters to Atticus Finch (the beloved father of Jem and Scout in your favorite book, To Kill A Mockingbird), and learning how to make King Ranch casserole. It's not easy to have fun when you're stuck in a small Texas town during the long, hot summer. You manage splendidly, though, and you even meet your first big crush.

Of course, you still think about your mom a lot. You wonder if you're like her at all. You worry that maybe you'll grow up to be crazy like her, and you keep watching for signs. When you receive a generic birthday card from her, you confess, "I ache to know more about my mother, while at the same time I wish she'd never send me any cards at all. Feeling two things at once must be one of the first signs of going crazy."

Sarah, while I read your story you became as real to me as Atticus Finch is to you.
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