Sunday, March 2, 2014

Sure Signs of Crazy by Karen Harrington

The more I write reviews the more I realize how much my biases come into play. I like a story with a fast pace. This story is not fast-paced. I like a story with lots of dialogue. This story has more interior monologue. I like a story that is funny. This story is dramatic and sad. I like the fantasy genre the most and the horror genre the least. You get the idea. The difficulty of writing a book and then having a review based solely on biases must be irritating for authors. I find it hard recognizing when my likes and dislikes are interfering with an analysis. It reminds me of when I was learning to be a reporter at 19. The professor said that it is really impossible to be objective. I was not a very good reporter. I'm probably not a very good reviewer. But at least I like writing book reviews better than being a reporter. It's enough to drive a person crazy. "Crazy" is a trouble word in the home of twelve-year-old Sarah Nelson. Crazy is a mom that tries to drown her kids and succeeds with one but not the other. Crazy is trying to learn to live with it.

This book has quite the premise. Sarah is worried about being crazy like her mom. When Sarah's mom killed her brother and tried to kill her, it was the only case of filicide in Texas and got so much publicity that Sarah and her dad move all the time to sustain some anonymity. They are recognized and ostracized wherever they live. Sarah's mom was found insane and put in a mental institution. Sarah worries that something might be wrong with her like her mom. While her dad deals with the tragedy by drinking too much, Sarah, for the first time, gets to stay home with her dad for the summer rather than go to her grandparents home in another city.

Her babysitter has a boyfriend and passes the watching of Sarah onto her brother, Finn. Sarah develops a crush on Finn and learns he has his own painful past. When another parent kills her children in the city, the press start to pester Sarah's family. Even after 10 years the family can't move on. She also wonders about her mother and she wants to get to know her. When the English teacher suggests keeping a journal and writing to a favorite fiction character, Sarah writes letters to Atticus Finch in "To Kill a Mockingbird." She talks about problems with her dad and longing to know her mother.

The character's arc begins with Sarah worrying about her mother going crazy, but changes later to wanting to get to know her mother. The result is a fractured plot. I preferred the beginning message of Sarah worrying that she'll have signs of mental illness. I worry I will get alzheimer's like my mom. Others worry about inherited diseases such as depression, strokes, heart attacks. Fear can be so crippling in people's lives that it is a universal theme that speaks to the adult as well as the child. The switch to wanting to meet her mother bored me in comparison. I kept waiting for the doctor to give a scientific reason for the mom's psychosis or some statistics on mother's killing children. When our family had a loved one die from suicide, our family couldn't get enough information on what makes the brain go haywire.

The romantic subplot is going to appeal more to girls than boys. Sarah trying to find a mother substitute in her babysitter to discuss her body changing is not going to interest boys either. The other subplot of Sarah's dad as an alcoholic as a result of their mom was more interesting. After 10 years Sarah and her father seem to be in a perpetual groundhog's day where they must relive the event until they can transcend it. He is depressed and unable to deal with the tragedy. He also seems to still love his wife. He was charged in the death of his children for neglect and I kept waiting for that issue to be addressed more in-depth with Sarah. The neighbor whose husband dies and Finn's past water down Sarah's story. It seemed that the author was trying to do too much.

Sarah loves words and writes the definitions of them throughout the story. I remember the first time I came across this in a middle grade novel and thought it so clever. While it is a good way to help readers toward fluency, it has become almost cliche. I have seen it in way too many realistic stories and it no longer enthralls me.

When readers come to a story with their own experiences and backgrounds, they make unique connections that help them deal with issues in their own life. Sarah's letter writing shows this and was a highlight for me in this story. Sarah is so lonely. She's isolated at school because of her past. She's teased so much she talks to a plant rather than people. Sometimes I feel so isolated living overseas. One thing multilingual students do is switch to another language when a monolingual adult is walking behind them in the hallway. They will do it to other monolingual or new students too if they want to exclude them. I feel the most isolated then. I'm sure the students do too. A foreigner on foreign soil that is illiterate. Move over Sarah. I'd like to talk to your plant.The story ends on hope with the family moving on, but leaves too many loose ends.

3 Smileys

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