Karen Harrington's Sure Signs of Crazy
is one of those books I want everyone to read. Although geared to a
middle grade or young teen audience, there are many levels to the story
of Sarah Nelson, and readers of all ages will find something to relate
to and love.
I didn't know until I finished Sure Signs of Crazy that it is actually a follow-up novel to Harrington's first book, Janeology. Let me assure you that you that Sure Signs of Crazy works brilliantly as a standalone story.
Here are my thoughts in a bullet review.
- The setup. Everything changes for Sarah Nelson the summer she turns 12. Sarah has always divided her life in half: the public part, in which she is a friend, neighbor, and daughter and the private part, in which she is an often lonely girl who hides the truths of her family. Ten years ago, Sarah's mother, now institutionalized, killed Sarah's twin brother and almost killed her too. Sarah's father, a college professor, has since tried to find solace with his friend Jim Beam. Whenever people find out who they are and who Sarah's mother is, father and daughter must move to a new town or neighborhood to escape the stares, gossip, and media.
- What happens. This is the first summer that Sarah has been allowed to stay at home instead of being sent to her grandparents. Under the watchful eye of her neighbors, Sarah experiences a number of other firsts, including her first real crush, her first period, and her first funeral. On the tenth anniversary of the day she almost died, Sarah is horrified to see that her mother's case is once again in the news. Will Sarah and her father start over in another town or will they find the strength to merge their public and private selves and face the future together?
- Thoughts, themes, genre. Sure Signs of Crazy is a multilayered coming-of-age story with vivid, well-developed characters. The narrative is told from Sarah's point of view, and her thoughts and actions seem believable for a 12-year-old who has had to shoulder adult burdens. The major themes are mental illness, alcoholism, families, young love, old love, privacy, individuality, and public versus private selves. This would be a good book club choice for readers of all ages but would especially be great for a mother/daughter (or similar combo) readalong.
- Extras. Sarah loves words and writes down her favorites in her secret diary. It was fun to see which words she looked up and incorporated into her vocabulary. I loved that she listened to her teacher and took his summer writing assignment to heart. He told his students to write letters to a fictional character, and Sarah picked Atticus Finch. Her letters are so true and revealing.
- The audiobook. The unabridged audiobook (Hachette Audio; 6 hr, 37 min) was read by Cassandra Morris, who was absolutely wonderful as 12-year-old Sarah. Morris's voice sounds young and she managed to infuse her narration with the perfect hint of adolescent drama. Although I'm confident I would have liked Sure Signs of Crazy in print, Morris brought the character of Sarah alive and kept my attention throughout the novel.
Source: Review (print & audio) (see review policy)
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