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How to Be a Real Person: In Just One Day


From the author of Sort of Forever, a powerful portrayal of a girl's determined fight to save both her mother and herself from her mother's increasing depression.

Twelve-year-old Kara Biggs is a list-maker: how to get up and go to school, how to get out of doing an oral book report, how to avoid having a teacher-parent conference. And how to be a real person—especially when part of her life doesn't feel all that real anymore. Through the ...
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From the author of Sort of Forever, a powerful portrayal of a girl's determined fight to save both her mother and herself from her mother's increasing depression.

Twelve-year-old Kara Biggs is a list-maker: how to get up and go to school, how to get out of doing an oral book report, how to avoid having a teacher-parent conference. And how to be a real person—especially when part of her life doesn't feel all that real anymore. Through the course of one day, Kara's life gradually reveals itself: her father has moved a few hours away for a job, and Kara is left at home with a mother who is spending more and more time in bed and less time taking care of herself or of Kara. But no one knows just how sick her mother has become, not her father, her teacher, or her best friend, and Kara is determined to keep it that way. She can take care of her mother herself, and be as real a person as she can—until her two desires collide in a painful yet hopeful finale.

Sixth grader Kara tries to conceal from her friends, her absent father, and the authorities that her mother is sliding deeper and deeper into mental illness.

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Editorial Reviews

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The Barnes & Noble Review
At first glance, Sally Warner's How to Be a Real Person (in Just One Day) may appear to be a casual observational diary of an average prepubescent girl. But after reading 11-year-old Kara's first list, "How to Get Ready for School," the reader is well aware that this book is anything but ordinary. Kara lives her life quietly, almost on an hourly basis. Creating lists for every part of her day helps this troubled and lonely girl help feel more real. Essentially, that is the goal of the whole book and her whole life. If she follows rules and lists and observes all the real people around her, she can forget the so-called reality that prevails in her house. Her mother is sick and has been sick her whole life. She suffers from depression, and when her mom doesn't take her meds, or they simply don't work, Kara is left to pick up the pieces. For Kara, there were good times when she was younger, but now those moments are few and far between.

And Kara has a secret -- all of this has gotten worse. But ever since her father moved out, she doesn't want to expose the horror of her life to anybody. Not even her friend, Stephanie. Kara's home life doesn't really allow for more than one friend's concerns or requests to come over to Kara's house after school. The list of excuses are better used on one person. Her troubling home life affects Kara in every way, including school. She includes a list for "How to Avoid a Family Conference". Trying to allay the worries of her teacher, she claims her phone is not working, or her parents are out on business. But all of Kara's attempts to hide her mother's growing depression are shattered when a fluke visit to Stephanie's house results in a fog of cops, her father, and Stephanie's family at Kara's house.

Throughout the book, Kara often refers to the character of Karana in Island of the Blue Dolphins. Kara feels she has been stranded on a lonely island of her own. When things get crazy in her life, she retreats there and all is good. Warner does an amazing job of relating Kara's denial of her mom's depression as well as her loss of hope. Kara is desperate and aged beyond her 11 years and the reader is anxious to see someone save her -- or save herself. A wonderfully insightful and detailed look at the life of one girl, and how reality is in the eye of the beholder. (Amy Barkat)

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
The rather flippant tone of its title belies the depth and substance of Warner's (Sort of Forever) fine novel. Written in the credible voice of 11-year-old Kara, the narrative unfolds on several planes. The sixth-grader flashes back to the past to reveal the erosion of both her mother's mental health and her parents' marriage, records the events of her unsettling present life, escapes from her daily trials by imagining herself in the role of Karana in Island of the Blue Dolphins (the setting of which she renames "Lonely Island") and--as referenced in the book's title--makes lists of instructions for herself for staying grounded (e.g., "How to Blend In," "How to Glue Your Life Back Together"). After presenting one such list, Kara notes, "If you do everything perfectly, you feel more real," which is something she desperately longs to feel. Ironically, her home situation is brutally real: since Kara's father has left to live in another town, her mother has become increasingly withdrawn and paranoid, spending most of her time shut in her bedroom while the girl takes care of herself (and her mother) and tells no one about the woman's deteriorating condition. This young narrator makes many penetrating and poignant observations ("I think my mom is very courageous. It must be scary being her"). Warner has shaped a haunting, ultimately hopeful story, whose heroine is indisputably real. Ages 10-up. (Feb.) Copyright 2000 Cahners Business Information.
Is there one pivotal day in a life? Kara, a sixth grader with a secret, narrates the details of one day that changed her life forever. Kara's mother suffers a mental illness that causes her to display erratic and paranoia-like symptoms. Because Kara is confused and embarrassed by her mother's behavior, she is forced to pretend to her father, teachers, and friends that her mother is fine. Kara creates rules, such as "How to Get Ready for School," "How to Avoid Having a Family Conference," ''How to Blend In," and "How to Fool Your Best Friend,'' to help her survive each day as she takes on the responsibility of caring not only for herself but also for her mother. Kara also creates Lonely Island, an imaginary place modeled after The Island of the Blue Dolphins, Kara's favorite book. Lonely Island allows Kara to keep her distance from difficult situations until she realizes that she is no longer able to cope alone. The constantly changing format of this book is enticing. Flashbacks, journal entries, and Kara's lists of survival techniques interrupt the somewhat slow-moving main story. The dialogue is stilted though, and the transition between scenes is often confusing. Kara, however, much like Karana from The Island of the Blue Dolphins, creates an immediate bond with the reader. VOYA CODES: 3Q 3P M J (Readable without serious defects; Will appeal with pushing; Middle School, defined as grades 6 to 8; Junior High, defined as grades 7 to 9). 2001, Knopf, 124p, $15.95. Ages 12 to 15. Reviewer: Leanne Neibuhr SOURCE: VOYA, August 2001 (Vol. 24, No. 3)
School Library Journal
Gr 5-7-Over the course of one day, 12-year-old Kara narrates her life with a mother suffering from manic depression. Her parents have recently separated and her mother's mental state is rapidly deteriorating. Kara takes it on herself to try and keep their lives together-not telling her father, her best friend, or her school-all the while feeling that she is not quite "real." She copes by doing things exactly the same way every time; watching those who are "real" for clues; making lists; repeating words in her head; and escaping to "Lonely Island," a place inspired by her favorite book, Island of the Blue Dolphins. But things reach a breaking point, and before the day is over, Kara must admit to herself that she alone cannot take care of her mother. As she did in Sort of Forever (Knopf, 1998), Warner compellingly portrays someone in a crisis state. Kara's lists of rules-"How to Survive Listening to Your Maybe-Crazy Mother," "How to Blend In," and "How to Fool Your Own Best Friend," for example-reveal a girl valiantly trying to handle something far beyond a 12-year-old's ability. The descriptions of living with a manic-depressive hit the mark, especially the thrill the manic state can engender. A good book to pair with Amy Zemser's Beyond the Mango Tree (Greenwillow, 1998) for a discussion of ill, possessive mothers.-Terrie Dorio, Santa Monica Public Library, CA Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
PLB: 0-375-90434-4 Warner (Totally Confidential, p. 805, etc.) here serves up a touching novel about a gritty and determined young girl who tries to cope with her mother's mental illness all alone. Because of her partly self-imposed isolation, Kara doesn't feel real and suffers in silence by pretending all is well. She confides in neither her father, who has taken a job in another city; her friends; nor any of her teachers. What she does do, however, is make lists about"how to be a real person"; she also watches what others do in order to copy their"real" ways and to make believe her life is normal, though her mother gets progressively worse. Kara's greatest salvation through her worst travails, whether at home or at school, is to retreat mentally to Lonely Island, based on Scott O'Dell's Island of the Blue Dolphins, a book she has read and treasured many times. Here Kara attempts to escape, however temporarily, from the crushing loneliness of her life and from the secret she dares not reveal. While the ending is a trifle pat, young readers will get caught up in Kara's dilemma and admire her strength under adversity. Very likely this novel will strike a responsive chord among readers who believe they have to handle family problems by themselves. (Fiction. 10-12)
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780375804342
  • Publisher: Random House Children's Books
  • Publication date: 2/13/2001
  • Edition description: 1 ED
  • Pages: 128
  • Age range: 10 - 13 Years
  • Lexile: 690L (what's this?)
  • Product dimensions: 5.72 (w) x 8.56 (h) x 0.62 (d)

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 2, 2005


    I had to read this book twice because I forgot the whole plot after bit. It was beter the first time I read it. Some things were just a bit too predictable. It was just an ok book.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted September 11, 2002


    this book was detailed but fast paced. the characters were complex and well developed, interesting people who had much to talk about. what they said made me really think about life. this book is good and exciting. i recommend it to all of you.

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