See You at Harry’s – A Book Review

There are books that have sad moments, there are books that have funny moments, and then there are books that touch you so deeply, that ring so true they stay with you forever. See you at Harry’s by Jo Knowles is all of these books in one. This is the first book I’ve read by Knowles, and I now want to read everything she’s ever written.

Here’s the plot summary:Big See You at Harrys

Twelve-year-old Fern feels invisible. It seems as though everyone in her family has better things to do than pay attention to her: Mom (when she’s not meditating) helps Dad run the family restaurant; Sarah is taking a gap year after high school; and Holden pretends that Mom and Dad and everyone else doesn’t know he’s gay, even as he fends off bullies at school. Then there’s Charlie: three years old, a “surprise” baby, the center of everyone’s world. He’s devoted to Fern, but he’s annoying, too, always getting his way, always dirty, always commanding attention. If it wasn’t for Ran, Fern’s calm and positive best friend, there’d be nowhere to turn. Ran’s mantra, “All will be well,” is soothing in a way that nothing else seems to be. And when Ran says it, Fern can almost believe it’s true. But then tragedy strikes- and Fern feels not only more alone than ever, but also responsible for the accident that has wrenched her family apart. All will not be well. Or at least all will never be the same. (Plot summary from Goodreads.)

The family dynamic was so well-written, so believable you’d almost wonder if she’d sat at your breakfast table and took notes – just the right amount of bickering and irritation and love. Fern’s voice did remind me of my own twelve-year old self – torn by feelings of self-doubt, guilt for letting the family down, irritation at being responsible for one’s younger siblings, etc. She also had a boy for a best friend, just like I did.

Here’s a short passage from early on in the book where the main character Fern tries to talk to her brother Holden about him being gay:

We’re quiet under the pine, smelling Christmas in summer and listening to the traffic on our street pick up as people start getting home from work. It’s my favorite thing about Holden, being able to sit quietly together and not talk. Just think together and not have to say a single word. But today, for the first time, I feel something floating between us, a question I’m sure I know the answer to. I feel the weight of the answer separating us for some reason I don’t understand. If it doesn’t matter to me, why should it matter to him?

“I don’t care if what Sara said is true,” I tell him quietly, hoping my words will make the floating thing go away. He takes a deep breath like it hurts. I wait for him to say something, but he just sits there, staring at the pine needles. And it almost feels like the floating thing has swallowed him up, leaving me all alone.

I was blown away by how heart-wrenching this book was. Just when I thought I knew where this story was going, WHAM! It pulled the floor out from underneath me. I saw the tragic event coming about two steps before it happened and internally I screamed NOOOO!!! I ached for this family. I felt their grief in a very physical way. UGH! I just can’t tell you much about the plot without spoiling it, and I don’t want to ruin this perfect book for you one little bit. All I can say is that even after I set the book down and walked away, I cried. A lot. This is definitely a two tissue box book. I have never had a story move me like that before. Ever.

I LOVED LOVED LOVED this book. Insanely loved it.  I know you will, too.

Jo Knowles mentions in the acknowledgements of the book that it was her agent, Barry Goldblatt, who encouraged her to write a story about growing up in the restaurant business. I can’t imagine he’d have thought such an amazing tale would’ve come to fruition from that bit of advice.

The actual family restaurant/ice cream factory that may have inspired this story. (Picture from author's website.)
The actual family restaurant/ice cream factory that may have inspired this story. (Picture from author’s website.)

Learn more about Jo Knowles’ books here.

Read Jo’s Live Journal entries here.

Follow Jo on Twitter here.