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From Barnes & NobleThe 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)