Review

'Sure Signs of Crazy': A colorful journey told by a witty young heroine

CorrespondentSeptember 16, 2013 

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    Young Adult Fiction Sure Signs of Crazy Karen Harrington

    Little, Brown Books for Young Readers. 288 pages. Ages 9 & up; grades 4 & up.

School has let out for Sarah Nelson and for her father, a high school English teacher. It’s the perfect opportunity for father and daughter to spend time together try to reduce the distance between them.

But, as Sarah has quickly learned, adults hardly ever do what they should.

In “Sure Signs of Crazy,” by Karen Harrington, Sarah really needs the attention of her father, since the last time she and her troubled mother saw each other, Sarah was 2. Instead, she gets pushed away again, learning she will have to leave town – Garland, Texas – to spend another dull summer with her grandparents in Dallas.

But first, she gets to spend a few weeks with Charlotte, a daring college student Sarah thinks is her friend and who has an appetite for books almost as voracious as Sarah’s.

Harrington’s first young readers’ novel is a colorful journey through the eyes of a 12-year-old girl, full of surprise and humor, despite the troubles and trials constantly thrown at the heroine.

Sarah is an ideal narrator: witty, thoughtful and gutsy. She reaches out to readers in a way few heroines can. Young readers will identify with her curiosity toward the world and her faith that things always will improve.

The Texas setting of Sarah’s hometown is perfect. With just the right amount of peaceful and familiar, it’s the exact sort of place where a 12-year-old would feel trapped. Harrington’s mastery of detail makes Garland seem like it could be anywhere between a mile and a hundred miles from the reader’s own town.

The grown-ups, including Charlotte and Sarah’s dad, put forth the infallible mentor front, when in reality they are just as unsure as Sarah. Both Sarah and the adults in her life are discovering that adulthood is not all it’s made out to be. The uneasiness and fear that adults feel as they mature is a subject hardly ever touched upon in young readers’ books, and Harrington writes it in a way that is surprisingly straightforward.

However, sometimes the book does not feel very realistic. Many times, character interactions have a dreamlike quality, making you aware that you are reading a book instead of witnessing an event. This can take the pleasure out of reading.

“Sure Signs of Crazy” is what I would call a bedside-table book – meaning, the plot takes awhile to unfold and is not particularly suspenseful, so it wouldn’t keep you awake at night. (If you’re looking for a thrilling, fast-paced novel, “Divergent,” by Veronica Roth, or “Dark Eyes,” by William Richter, would be more enjoyable for you.)

Harrington’s novel is worthwhile, with a fantastic main character, a realistic setting and high emotional stakes. Readers will enjoy watching Sarah’s journey as she realizes the only person she can trust is herself – and they may discover a thing or two about themselves along the way.

Madisen Peek is a seventh-grader at Lee Middle School in Sanford.

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