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1. See You At Harry's

Many people have been telling me to read this one for quite some time now, but it just never came across my desk.  I put matters into my own hands, downloaded a copy, and read it in virtually one gulp.

Fern feels a bit invisible in her busy family. They own Harry's, a casual restaurant and ice cream joint that takes up most of her parents' energy.  All of the kids are expected to pitch in, and Fern's after-school time is usually spent in a booth doing homework and trying to keep an eye on her sticky ball of energy little brother Charlie.  But things in Fern's world are beginning to shift.

First off, she is starting middle school.  Now she is going to school with big brother Holden since the high school and middle school share a building.  After a somewhat cryptic warning about bus etiquette from Holden, Fern is distressed to realize just what goes on during the bus ride.  She has always been closest to Holden, and now he wants her to pretend she doesn't know him...all for her own good.  Her big sister Sara has been teasing Holden about his J-Crew sense of style and has been egging him to address who he really is, but Fern had never considered how this might translate on the bus and at school.

Then there are her father's crazy schemes to get more business into their restaurant.  Just before school started, he had the family shoot a basic cable style commercial, and now everywhere she goes she hears little brother Charlie's tagline - "See you at Hawwy's!".  She tries to channel her best-friend Ran's zen nature and starts thinking of his mantra - all will be well.

But suddenly, all is decidedly not well.  After a tragic turn of events, Fern's busy family is broken.  At this time when she needs her parents and brother and sister more than ever, Fern finds herself feeling incredibly misunderstood and guilty. 

Jo Knowles has written a powerful story about family and self that packs a punch.  Readers will be able to see themselves in each character turn by turn for better and for worse.  The idea that families really are sets of individuals who fulfill different roles at different times is explored gracefully.  Knowles also gets the voice of the kids and the adults down perfectly.  From Holden's excitement and distance in his first relationship, to Fern's concern for Charlie to her mother's need to get away rather than argue, each character feels authentic and whole. See You At Harry's is a definite must-read for the tween set.

Just a word of warning...make sure to have some tissues handy!

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