From the Publisher
“First-time novelist Leal creates complex characters from various walks of life… The cards are stacked against Harper and her family, but it is inspiring to watch her find success with a pen, paper and a little hope.” Publishers Weekly
“Memorable characterizations fill the book with realistic individuals whom readers will root for and celebrate with when their lives finally begin to improve.” School Library Journal
“First-time novelist Leal takes a narrative with familiar elements…and elevates it with her characters, who...are sharply and sympathetically drawn. One of the highlights is Harper's poetry, interspersed throughout the book…they are written in a clear and natural way that will speak to readers and make them think.” Booklist
“The likable characters, their misfortunes and especially their self-reliance will keep readers...enthralled. A poignant debut.” Kirkus Reviews
“From Harper to Winnie Rae Early, the characters are memorable as are the descriptive passages…This book is rich with discussion opportunity for middle grade students” VOYA
Named after the author of To Kill a Mockingbird, fifth-grader Harper Lee Morgan defines herself as a poet: "That name has soaked itself into my bones," she writes. After her father runs off ("The whiskey got in and made angry puddles in his brain"), Harper, her mother and her younger brother, Hemingway (Hem), are evicted, and they move into a motel. With her mom physically exhausted from working day and night (and emotionally fragile as a result of Harper's stillborn baby sister, Flannery), Harper is forced to stay at the motel with Hem all day and risks missing her favorite part of the school year: the poetry contest. At the motel, she meets myriad characters, who give her plenty of material for her poems. First-time novelist Leal creates complex characters from various walks of life, though the delivery of the message "that people aren't always what they seem from the outside" occasionally feels heavy-handed. The cards are stacked against Harper and her family, but it is inspiring to watch her find success with a pen, paper and a little hope. Ages 10-up. (May)Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
Children's Literature - Jennifer Lehmann
Harper Lee Morgan has to get to school. The poetry contest for which she has been waiting all year is coming soon, and she has to show her poems to her teacher, but her family suddenly finds itself homeless. Her father left them, and her mother's jobs no longer cover their rent. Harper Lee has to stay with her brother and keep her family together, risking her own dreams. While trying to find a new way of life, they meet another homeless family and become fast friends. Harper Lee's story is beautifully written, with full and heartbreaking characters. The ending is happy and hopeful, but a little too contrived to make the reader believe that all families in this situation come out as well. The content is heavy for the age group, although several circumstances may have been harder for me as an adult reviewer to accept than they would be for a child. This book will not be for all readers, but those with some maturity or difficult experiences will appreciate the powerful text and the honest, sensitive look at these issues. Reviewer: Jennifer Lehmann
VOYA - Barbara Johnston
Once words start forming in Harper Lee Morgan's head, she must write them down. Her poems would win the poetry contest if only she were at school to submit them. Since her daddy got into whiskey and abandoned them, her mother has been trying unsuccessfully to make ends meet. Now evicted from their rental house, the family is living in a motel room and Harper must forgo school to babysit her brother while her mother works. They befriend Randall and his older sister, Lorraine, who has lost the ability to speak. Their home is part of a tent city behind the motel. At first Harper is wary of wheelchair-riding Dorothy with her bag-lady appearance, but her kindness wins over Harper. Dorothy's untimely death forces Lorraine to speak and then leads to temporary shelter and hope for Harper and her family. Dispelling stereotypical judgments about the homeless, this tender story also brings heart-wrenching insight into their plight. Harper's family might never have become desperate had not the death of baby Flannery propelled their father into alcoholism. For Dorothy, a former college professor, it was a tragic car accident. Rather than laziness, the fickle finger of fate has determined their addresses. From Harper to Winnie Rae Early, the characters are memorable as are the descriptive passagespicture their batik tent city. Most touching are Harper's pithy poems that expose the raw emotions of a bright but disadvantaged girl. This book is rich with discussion opportunity for middle school students. Reviewer: Barbara Johnston
School Library Journal
Fifth-grader Harper Lee Morgan has a lot on her mind. Her father left a year ago, her mother has fallen behind on the rent, and her five-year-old brother waits every day on the porch for his father's return. A talented writer, she desperately wants to enter an upcoming poetry contest. All of her worries can be forgotten when she is writing poetry or her mother is reading To Kill a Mockingbird to her and Hem. Then her family is evicted and they move to a local motel, where the children meet Lorraine and Randall Kelley, who live in a nearby tent encampment with their mother. Lorraine hasn't spoken since a fire destroyed her family's apartment. Hem and Harper meet Lorraine and Randall's friend Dorothy, an elderly widow who once owned the land that the motel is on and still lives in a cabin behind it. It is through these friendships that Harper discovers what really is important to her-poetry, family, friends, and the home you make with them. This is a timely tale of families on the edge with no fathers in sight, mothers struggling to keep it together, and the difficulties of recovering once you hit bottom. But the power of words-whether in poetry or a favorite book-to soothe, make things better, and give a new perspective is always there. Memorable characterizations fill the book with realistic individuals whom readers will root for and celebrate with when their lives finally begin to improve.-Terrie Dorio, Santa Monica Public Library, CA
Harper Lee Morgan loves nothing more than the tingle of a new poem working itself out in her head. And all she wants is to win the poetry contest at school. However, after her father abandons the family, Harper, her mother and her younger brother, Hemingway, get evicted from their apartment and must finally settle themselves in an abandoned drive-in movie projector house. Harper, charged with taking care of Hem while her mother works, cannot make it back to school in time for the contest. Luckily, she and Hem find some friends who help guide them through their transition to homelessness and who ultimately help them into a new, albeit temporary, home. Meanwhile, Harper learns some important lessons on the meaning of home and family, and she comes to know that, when her poetry is concerned, the right audience trumps a big crowd every time. Occasionally oversentimental, but the likable characters, their misfortunes and especially their self-reliance will keep readers, particularly fans of the Boxcar Children and other such fare, enthralled. A poignant debut. (Fiction. 10-14)
Read an Excerpt
“Hey, Hem.” I moved a couple of boxes aside so he could come in. “You don’t believe in letting a person settle themselves in before you get to bothering them, now, do you?”
But I patted the corner of the bed. Hemingway’s company wasn’t so bad. He had a way about him that made all the tired go out of a person.
“Mama says we got to move pretty quick here,” he said, eyeing all my boxes.
“Not just yet.” I straightened up a stack of poems on my bed. “She just wants us to get a head start, is all.”
“Thing is…” He bit at a hangnail on his thumb and I knew what was coming. Hem always got fidgety when he was thinking about Daddy. “How’s he going to find us?”
I pulled his thumb away from his mouth. “He’ll find us if the time comes.”
I knew how badly Hem wanted Daddy to come walking back up our front steps, and I wanted that for him, I really did. But I wasn’t so sure I wanted that for me.
He got up and took a good look out my bedroom window. “It’s almost time to go out, Harper Lee.”
“You know I’m not going to go out to the porch,” I reminded him.
He leaned forward as if he was going to tell me a good secret. “But I’m thinking I might wait on the driveway path today, right out front, you know? Just so as he can see me better.”
But deep down, I think Hemingway knew as well as I did, when Daddy had made his way down that driveway path a whole year ago, he had never figured on coming back.