Parents' Choice Foundation: Reviewing Children's Media Since 1978

Sure Signs of Crazy

Sure Signs of Crazy

Fall 2013 Fiction
Ages: 9 & Up
Author: Karen Harrington
ISBN: 9780316210584
Hardcover Price: $16.99

Sarah Nelson keeps two diaries-a fake decoy, in which she invents "normal" thoughts for prying adults to read, and a real one, in which she writes about the actual problems she's trying to work through. Currently, Sarah is trying to figure out a few pretty important problems. She's worried about having to do the seventh grade Family Tree Project in the fall, because when the subject of her family tree comes up, bad things happen. Sarah's mother has been institutionalized ever since she tried to drown Sarah (and succeeded in drowning Sarah's twin brother) when the children were two. Every few years or so, the Nelson case gets revived on Texas news channels, and people start to hound Sarah and her father whenever they leave the house. Then they leave town (again), and Sarah's father spirals further into alcoholism. This summer turns out to be a bit different than she planned, however-in some good ways. Instead of spending the summer at her boring grandparents' house like she usually does, Sarah gets to stay home and spend her days with her cool neighbor Charlotte. Charlotte's cute brother Finn, as it happens, loves words as much as Sarah does. Not only that, Sarah's English teacher has offered an iPod Nano for a student who writes the best letters to a fictional character; and Sarah finds that her letters to Atticus Finch, the father she wishes she had, help her work through her problems better than her secret diary did.

This book begins as a gritty problem novel about mental illness and alcoholism, but it very quickly slides into a slightly different genre, that of the summer-coming-of-age story. These two aspects of the novel do not mesh together convincingly at first, but by the end, Sarah's friendship with Finn, her writing, and her determination to face her own worst fears about her family all develop toward a satisfying, cathartic, and hopeful conclusion. The narrative voice, naïve and dryly witty by turns, is the greatest strength of this new novel.

Naomi Lesley   ©2013 Parents' Choice
Naomi Lesley taught middle and high school English for six years. She is currently in a doctoral program at the George Washington University, focusing on American young adult literature.

Look for this product at:
Little Brown Books for Young Readers

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