Sure Signs of Crazy

I might just read children's novels for a while until my frustration with young adult literature (for the most part: not talking about awesome people like E. Lockhart, A.S. King, or Courtney Summers) dies down to a simmer from a rolling boil.  It's mostly my own fault, really: I just keep requesting advance copies of titles and being disappointed.  Part of the issue is that when I check a book out from the library or when I purchase a book, I have a tangible source of motivation.  I look at the book and it says, "Read me."  I pick it up and feel like I'm accomplishing something by turning the pages instead of just clicking on my Olde-Style Kyndle's navigation buttons.

Plus, the novels I've snagged from the shelves have been extraordinary.  Not just "rather" extraordinary in that equivocal tone that I tend to take with my reviews.  But flat-out awesome, heartbreaking, and important pieces of literature.  Fun fact: both of the books I read in the past two days had a connection to To Kill A Mockingbird, which I will discuss later in the review.  The first one I'm going to review is Sure Signs of Crazy by Karen Harrington.

Sarah and her father, Tom, live in a small town in Texas.  They move a lot, mostly because once people realize that she is that Sarah, they shun the family.  That Sarah Nelson: the one whose mother drowned her and her twin brother when they were two and whose now institutionalized; the one whose father was tried for failure to protect his children and who's taken to making very good friends with Johnnie Walker; the one who survived.  Sarah is also a logophile: she collects words and their meanings and these crop up in the narrative at important junctures.

It's the end of the school year and Sarah dreads having to go spend three months with her grandparents in Houston.  They're nice and she loves them, but she wants to have a normal, middle-school girl's summer in her town.  PLUS, her friend has challenged her to French kiss someone by the end of the summer.

Sarah keeps two separate diaries: a fake one filled with banal thoughts, and the real one that contains her secrets, the largest of which is this: she is afraid that she will grow up to be like her mother.  Is the kind of "crazy" that her mother had genetic?  Is Sarah's passion for words and social awkwardness a sign of crazy?  Is the fact that her real best friend is a plant named Plant a sign of crazy?  How about her propensity to stand on the stump in her front yard and just stare?  There is one man who can answer this question, and that's Atticus Finch.

To Kill A Mockingbird is one of my all-time favorite books.  When you have all-time favorites, it's nerve-wracking to see them referenced in other books.  The main reason I wasn't very fond of Moon Over Manifest was because the main character felt like a copycat of Scout, right down to the overalls.  My coworker had told me that the main character in Sure Signs of Crazy writes letters to Atticus Finch, so I approached this with trepidation.

Actually, it turns out that I can't think of a better person to unburden yourself to (if we're going with fictional characters here) than Atticus.  Of course, to me, Gregory Peck IS Atticus Finch, so I hear him talking in that low, smooth voice.  Sarah's letters to Atticus make sense to me, and her final realization about why she writes these letters is real and true.

Because of her family history, Sarah doesn't make friends easily.  She wants Charlotte, an older neighbor girl, to be a surrogate older sister, but increasingly prefers the company of Charlotte's brother Finn, a fellow logophile and all-around cool dude.  Heck, I got a crush on Finn from just reading about him, so I can't blame this lonely twelve-year old for crushing on him too, and feeling that she's in love.  Being twelve is a seriously messed up existential phenomenon.  If I had read this book when I was twelve, I would have completely believed in the purity of Sarah's love for Finn, and been crushed by the resolution of their relationship.  As a (mostly) grown-up, I remember what it was like to feel like you were sophisticated and mature and the specialness of feeling that you belong with someone.  I realize the impropriety of any relationship that could grow between Sarah and Finn, and I applaud Finn for his maturity and kindness.  Harrington handles all of these issues deftly and without excess drama.  I hate excess drama.

I'm surprised that Sure Signs of Crazy isn't more well-known or recognized, and I'm going to do my very best to promote it up, down, and sideways at the library.  I cried at the end.  When I read, that's a very good thing.  I cry the same way when I read To Kill A Mockingbird.  I like to think I'm overcome with emotion, a bit like Scout: "Our neighbor's image blurred with my sudden tears.  'Hey, Boo,' I said."


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