This Under the Radar Rec is going to be a bit shorter than my last two -- but that doesn't mean it's any less whole-hearted. If you have any interest in The Wizard of Oz, you should read this book. If you have any interest in slang, you should read this book. If you have any interest in stories about friendship, you should read this book. If you have any interest in the family of prison inmates, you should read this book. If you have any interest in children's fiction at all, you should read this book. If you DON'T have any interest in children's fiction at all, you should read this book, because you know what? It beats the socks off of a whole lot (if not most) of the grown-up books out there.
Sue Stauffacher is most well-known for the Donuthead books, which are (don't get me wrong!) great. But this is Under the Radar Week in the kidlit 'verse, so I'm going to focus on Harry Sue. As far as I can tell, this book is NOT getting the attention it deserves.
My history with the book is as follows: A friend (who is to be trusted, recommendation-wise) of mine told me to read it. She loved it so much that she even wrote a guest review for this site. For an entire year after recommending it to me, whenever we were in touch, she asked if I'd read the book yet. As time went by, her missives (when they reached that topic) got somewhat sarcastic.
(I don't know what my problem is. Sometimes, the more something is recommended to me, the longer it takes me to read it. I still haven't read Kavalier and Clay, for instance.)
Anyway. Finally, I read it. And after reading the first paragraph, I conked myself on the head with it six times. WHY. DID. I. WAIT. SO. LONG?:
All you fish, listen up. I'm talking to you. While you're sitting there, cooling your heels in the tank, you might as well know the story of Harry Sue. Everything moves slower here. It's like walking underwater. Time, my friend, is something you have too much of, and you'll learn that a story well told--even if it's full of joint jive you can't fully comprehend--is worth more than all the personals you collected on the outs. Especially if it lifts you out of your skin.
The following is my original write-up of Harry Sue:
Finally. I finally read Harry Sue.
I LOVED THIS BOOK.
Harriet Susan Clotkin is not the sort of name you'd imagine for the first lady president of the United States. That's just fine by me, as I never had designs on running for political office but planned instead on following in the family tradition: a career of incarceration. As soon as I was old enough, I was headed for the joint. First I had to have the required fourteen to sixteen years of rotten childhood. So far, I had only served eleven years and change.
Seriously. How could you not love her? Go. Read.
Harry Sue lives with her wicked Granny, who makes life miserable without raising a hand. That doesn't mean that everyone else is safe -- she is constantly trying to protect the crumb snatchers* from Granny Clotkin, who runs the cheapest daycare around.
But Harry Sue can't protect them all the time. She has to spend her weekdays doing time at Trench Vista Elementary School with the cheese eaters** and the busters***.
Luckily, she has Homer Price to count on. He's got his own time to do, and it's a life sentence with lots of time in the hole, but he's there for Harry and Harry's there for him. She has The Wizard of Oz, which she loves so much that she's read it twenty-seven times. There's also Beau, Homer's home health aide, who taught them Conglish, and Harry knows that someday, she'll make it into The System and she'll find her mom.
So. Super. Fab. While I caught some of the parallels to The Wizard of Oz, the Author's Note pointed out a whole lot more that I'd missed. Actually, while I'm on that subject: The paperback cover art is really, really attractive -- I do think that kids will be more likely to pick it up now -- but it's too bad that they went with the red sneakers. Harry Sue shows a decent amount of contempt for the differences between the book and the movie version, so really, her sneaks should be silver.
I grant you that the red is attractive and eye-catching, though.
In terms of issues dealt with, it's quite dark, but Harry's voice -- original and so smart -- makes it feel lighter and it reads fast and snappy. It's hopeful and the connections Harry Sue has and makes with people -- Homer, J-Cat, Baba, the crumb snatchers -- made me think of the Vachss**** quote: "It's the family you choose that counts."
***jerk, rhymes with "can't trust her"
****Yes, I have Vachss -- and that quote specifically -- on the brain. It's because the de Lint book opens with it.
A Chair, A Fireplace & A Tea Cozy: The President's Daughter series by Ellen Emerson White
Big A, little a: The Tide Knot by Helen Dunmore
Jen Robinson's Book Page: The Zilpha Keatley Snyder Green Sky trilogy
Bildungsroman: Innocence by Jane Mendelsohn: A Discussion Part 1
Chasing Ray: Innocence by Jane Mendelsohn: A Discussion Part 2
lectitans: Innocence by Jane Mendelsohn: A Discussion Part 3
Finding Wonderland: The House on Hound Hill by Maggie Prince
Miss Erin: The Reb & Redcoats and Enemy Brothers, both by Constance Savery
Interactive Reader: Shake Down the Stars by Frances Donnelly
Chicken Spaghetti: Pooja Makhijani guest blogs with Romina's Rangoli by Malathi Michelle Iyengar
Writing & Ruminating: Dear Mr. Rosenwald by Carole Weatherford
Shaken & Stirred: Elizabeth Knox and the Dreamhunter Duet