At the start of Jo Knowles’ See You at Harry’s, 12-year-old Fern’s summer is unfolding in a predictable way as she helps out at the family diner and hangs out with her best friend. Readers are lolled into her comfortable routine, although there are definitely some incidences that make this more than a simple and lighthearted beginning.
Fern is comfortably ensnared in a large family, ranging from three-year-old Charlie to 18-year-old Sarah, with Fern and 14-year-old Holden in the middle. Fern feels invisible when surrounded by her siblings, especially since Fern’s brother Holden is struggling to reveal a secret to his family that he fears could alienate him, and Fern is in a constant battle of love and hate with her college-bound sister. And of course, her pesky toddler brother is always at her heels, begging for more and more attention. Then, just as the reader presumes where Fern’s thoughts and actions will travel, tragedy strikes and Fern’s family is left stunned in its wake.
Knowles never shies away from the searing pain and depths of heartache that encase this story, and it’s this respect for her audience that I appreciated above all else. It’s easy to underestimate a young reader’s ability to comprehend the sort of tragedy that takes place in this story, but Knowles understands that sincere pain doesn’t choose its receivers by age. These things happen to everyone, young and old, and Fern, sweet and sassy, genuine and endearing, is the perfect vessel for a story that has as much light as it does darkness. Really, this is a story of a family more than an individual, and it’s one that you will want to hold close to your heart.
This is an amazing book for middle-schoolers and beyond, especially if you’re looking for a heartfelt, realistic read that won’t easily be forgotten. Teens and adults will feel a connection with Fern as she faces the aftermath of an accident she blames on herself, and as she and her family slowly begin their own concoction of healing.
Considering the details of this story, I was amazed at still being able to walk away with hope, and yet that is the gift of Jo Knowles and See You at Harry’s.
This review was previously published by the Deerfield Review.