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.
*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