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Harry Sue Hardcover – June 28, 2005
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From School Library Journal
Grade 4-8–Harry Sue, 11, feels as though she's been doing time for the past seven years, since her father threw her out of a window in a drunken rage and both of her parents went to prison. She has tried to keep her focus on becoming a convict herself, with the hope that she will be reunited with her mother someday. Unfortunately for Harry Sue, she has a heart, and it is not the cold heart of a criminal. Consigned to the custody of her paternal grandmother, who runs a disturbingly bad child-care center, Harry Sue has her hands full, keeping the children at Granny's Lap from harm, going to school, and spending as much time as she can with her best friend, a quadriplegic with an inventive mind whom she has nicknamed Homer Price. That's right, our heroine is a reader, and in fact uses The Wizard of Oz as her touchstone. She knows the true, dark story that Baum wrote, and sees her life reflected on every page, in every character. It is her only source of comfort and hope. A glossary of Conglish, prison language, comes in handy because that's how Harry Sue speaks. Her vivacious narrative moves rapidly through a turning point in her life and that of her road dog (a friend you can count on), Homer. Both children finally come into contact with adults who see inside them and force hope into their lives. It's a tragic series of accidents that finally brings Granny's abuse to the attention of authorities and shows both children the possibility of a future. This is a riveting story, dramatically and well told, with characters whom readers won't soon forget.–Susan Oliver, Tampa-Hillsborough Public Library System, FL
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
Gr. 5-8. Sue Stauffacher's utterly original creation, 11-year-old Harry Sue Clotkin, has no greater ambition than to get thrown in the slammer and be reunited with her incarcerated mother, who, like her father, is in prison. Left to the not-so-tender mercies of her racist grandmother, who runs a shoddy home child-care operation, she finds solace in taking care of the toddler "crumb snatchers" and her disabled homebound friend, Homer. When Granny nearly allows one of the charges to die, Harry Sue can no longer pretend to have a heart "covered in riveted steel." The bittersweet story is chock-full of quirky, touching characters and sidesplitting dialogue, but Stauffacher also tackles some serious issues, including child neglect and parental incarceration. Harry Sue's coping mechanism, centered on prison lingo and behavior, is reminiscent of Bud's "Rules and Things" from Christopher Paul Curtis' splendid Bud, Not Buddy (1999). Hyperbolic and charming, Harry Sue is a triumphant symbol of the resilience of children. Jennifer Hubert
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved
Top customer reviews
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.
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