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“See You at Harry’s” by Jo Knowles and “Waiting” by Carol Lynch Williams

I read two new books recently that deal with the death of a child and how that death affects others in the family.

If you haven't read See You at Harry’s, by Jo Knowles, sorry for the spoiler. But don’t let the fact that I’ve just told you someone dies keep you from reading it. It’s a great book.

(Another to add to the list I’m keeping of possible Newbery contenders: Wonder, The One and Only Ivan, The Lions of Little Rock, Crow and The Mighty Miss Malone. I haven’t read the last two yet, but they look like good books.)

The book jacket will tell you that the family suffers a tragedy and that perhaps our narrator is to blame. She’s not. Fern, 12, suffers early on in the book from being ignored and being a tween. Her father is too busy running the family ice cream shop, her mother is too busy taking care of 3-year-old Charlie and locking herself in her office when she needs to meditate, her older sister Sara is too busy trying to figure out what she should do now that she has graduated from high school, and her older brother Holden is too busy avoiding bullies and finding romance.

When Charlie is injured in an accident and subsequently dies, Fern feels she is to blame for not watching him closely enough. Fern must grieve, understand that she’s not to blame and somehow move on. She could use her mother’s help, but her mother is totally consumed by her own grief.

And that’s understandable. I cannot imagine how I would feel and react if I lost one of my boys. But I think Knowles gets it right. Sara pulls herself together first and acts as substitute mom for Fern, even helping her get reading for the year-end school dance. And before too long, Mom comes out of her fugue state and begins interacting with her other children again. Fern is a strong, real character and See You at Harry’s is deep and moving. It’s sadness will stay with you, but so will the bit of hope you feel at the end.

Waiting by Carol Lynch Williams covers similar ground, but with much more angst. This might be because See You at Harry’s is for tweens, while Waiting is for teens. So the melodrama is amped up. You know from the start that something terrible has happened. And if you read the book jacket, you know before you start. Narrator London’s brother has killed himself and she is alone and adrift, with school friends ignoring her because of the tragedy. Worse, her mother has stopped speaking to her. Mom blames London for some part of it. London does some stupid things trying to get noticed by her mother in any way possible, and not until nearly the end do we find out that both London and her mom were home when Zach hanged himself. London gets by with help from new friends, and also an old one and his family. Mom, on the other hand, totally blames London and goes nuts, to use the vernacular. She never comes around to comfort her grieving daughter and instead leaves the family (hopefully for some grief counseling, but we don’t know).

I so wish the mom’s reaction in Waiting wasn’t so psychotic. But I know teens often see their parents as the overly emotional ones (ha!).

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