Thursday, June 18, 2009

Also known as Harper by Ann Haywood Leal


I finished it but I didn't want to finish it, if you know what I mean. I wanted to be 14 again reading this book, loving it and then rereading it, which is what I used to do when I was 14 because my days were never-ending read fests.

Ann Haywood Leal has created touching and realistic characters focused around the central theme of poverty. Harper Lee and her brother, Hemingway live with their mom, who is barely surviving financially. Harper's happiness comes from her family and her ability to transform words into poetry. Her mom works odd jobs, mostly cleaning other people's houses and working at a laundromat. It seems at one time the family had happier times with Harper's memories showing us a trip to the fair, and swimming together until Daddy's life becomes consumed with "the whiskey".

Harper's memories also shift to show us this new bitter daddy and how his acerbic tongue belittles the women of the family. In another flashback we are witness to mom demanding dad leave because of his drinking. I think this will really help young readers see a side of poverty they might never be witness to and it may show others that what they are experienceing in poverty is very much like Harper's life. I know many children at my elementary school have been traumatized by house fires or evictions. As the librarian, I often hear excuses like "i can't get my book back...it's at my dad's and I'm not going there right now." Sometimes I hear from teachers that this family is now living in a motel because a house fire took their belongings or certain kids have been taken from a mom or dad's home, quickly. I've always been sympathetic to these situations but reading this book I will be more empathetic to how quickly life can spiral out of control, especially for a child.
I particularly liked how Harper, even though she couldn't get back and forth to school, really wanted to get there. She deeply missed her teacher and her school surroundings. Harper is forced to miss school for a few days because she has to watch her young brother, Hemingway while her mom works as much as she can to try to raise any kind of rent money. I guess when I hear about kids missing school for days at a time because of living situations I think they must be enjoying their freedom. Harper, Randall and Lorraine show the other side of students just doing what they can to get by on a very daily basis. This book, realistic fiction at it's best, will be a must-purchase for my library when I make my first book order in the fall. It reminds me of a series I read during my graduate days by Cynthia Voight called the Tillerman series; The Homecoming and Dicey's Song. These books also featured a young family in crisis.

Ann Haywood's website.

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