Worried that she will grow up to be crazy like her mother or alcoholic like her father, rising seventh-grader Sarah Nelson takes courage from Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird, writing letters to Atticus Finch and discovering her own strengths.
Sarah is a survivor. She survived her mother’s attempt to drown her when she was 2 and the notoriety that has followed her and her father from one Texas town to another in the 10 years since. In a first-person, present-tense narration interspersed with definitions, diary entries and letters, she describes the events of the summer she turns 12, gets her period, develops a crush on a neighbor and fellow word lover, and comes to terms with her parents’ failings. In her first middle-grade novel, Harrington revisits the characters of her adult thriller, Janeology (2008), to imagine what it might be like to be the child of a filicidal mother. Sarah’s 12-year-old voice is believable and her anxieties realistic. Intellectually precocious and responsible beyond her years, she is also a needy child who finds helpful support when she reaches out to a grieving elderly neighbor. Although her situation is difficult, Sarah is resilient and hopeful.
Readers intrigued by the premise of this moving story will sympathize with the plucky protagonist and rejoice in the way her summer works out. (Fiction. 9-13)