Words are a whole lot more than just a series of letters thrown together. Words can cause joy or pain. Words can bolster courage or crush dreams. To have a young protagonist who loves words and sees their potential for both good and bad is the perfect set-up for a novel of middle school self-exploration.
There are many things for the teacher in to me to love about this book:
1) The use of great vocabulary, followed by a direct and easy to understand definition. (Think: A Series of Unfortunate Events) I adore the way Harrington fills the book with amazing words, but then doesn’t leave the middle school reader wondering what they mean. Having a protagonist that loves the dictionary and the words in it allows the author to give simple definitions right in the text of the story. I also love that each word is Sarah’s new “favorite” word, as I too am easily swayed by fun, new words!
2) To Kill a Mockingbird. What more can I say? The entire book is based around Sarah’s letters to Atticus Finch, one of the strongest characters in American literature. I can only cross my fingers and hope that after reading Sure Signs of Crazy, a student would be curious enough to go search out a copy of Lee’s amazing book. (I’d have these two books displayed side-by-side in my classroom!!)
3) Important issues are dealt with, but not in world-crushing kind of way. A novel whose protagonist is the survivor of attempted infanticide by her mother and now lives with her alcoholic father could very easily flow into darkness, but Harrington does a super job of seeing the world through the eyes of a twelve year old- jumping between the seriousness of her history, but also the daily concerns of a growing young lady, like her first kiss and the overwhelming options on the feminine hygiene aisle.
While the basis of the story is a disturbing one, the reader is able to walk away from the book with hope for the future. We are not a simple math problem of parent + parent = child, but rather have the choice to follow our own dreams and discover what we want out of life. Sarah is not destined to be either crazy or an alcoholic, just because that is what she comes from, but rather has an entire world of words and books ahead of her to help determine her pathway.
Karen Harrington’s latest novel is a must-have for middle school libraries and classrooms and easily earns a solid: