Hardcover, 288 pages
Published August 20th 2013 by Little, Brown Books for Young Readers
Source: ARC acquired at ALA Midwinter in 2013
“There’s the parent you want and the parent you have.”
It feels somewhat impossible to convey in words the exquisite sense of tragedy that clings to twelve year old Sarah Nelson’s life. I say twelve year old as though her age defines her when it does anything but. It does limit her in many ways but it doesn’t define the person she is and to suggest so is doing her an injustice.
Her life is defined by tragedy however; her life has been shaped by the tragic events that took place when she was only two years old. After her father left for work one day, Sarah’s mother had a psychotic episode and drowned Sarah and her twin brother Simon. Sarah survived, Simon didn’t. Her mother was charged, went on trial, and was sent to a mental institution for the criminally insane. Her father, too, went on trial. His crime? Apparently trusting his wife to take care of her children.
Ten years later, Sarah is living in a small suburb in Texas with a father who is more often drunk than not. She is beginning to grow up but has no idea what it means to be a girl in transition. She has no one to talk to–and perhaps this is the greatest tragedy of all–her best friend is a plant whom she affectionately calls Plant and has one sided heart-to-hearts with.
When Sarah refuses to go to her grandparents’ house for the summer, Sarah’s dad makes an agreement with the college student across the road where she’ll look after Charlotte in return for payment. (Sarah has no idea about the payment part.) In Charlotte, Sarah finds someone who knows what it means to be a girl and someone who can help her become one. But Charlotte is also wrapped up entirely too much in her smarmy boyfriend, Christopher, whom Sarah does not like at all.
Sarah finds some comfort in Charlotte’s 19 year old brother, Finn, who loves words almost as much as she does and who enjoys prodding Sarah out of her complacency especially where literature is concerned.
Sure Signs of Crazy is told with such remarkable sensitivity and delicacy that I am surprised more people haven’t read it. The narrative uses a combination of techniques to tell the story. Sarah writes letters to Atticus Finch, reiterating more than once her wish that he was her father instead of the one she currently has. She writes letters to her mother and asks her questions and tells her things she wants her to know.
Sarah is one of the most vibrant protagonists I have read in a long time. She narrates her story without melodrama and without a surfeit of drama. The romance in this one (and it exists) is just as poignant as the primary plot is and while Sarah understands that her feelings for Finn will not be reciprocated from the very start, she maintains her feelings with a quiet dignity that makes me love her even more.
“I think I love you.”
Well, I can’t believe the words came out of my own mouth. There she is, this different girl using my mouth, my lips, without permission. Maybe this is what going crazy is like. Maybe I have a split personality too. All I can figure is that hearing people talking about Mr. Dupree’s life gave that other side of me courage. You think about what you want people to know about you more than ever.
His gaze falls to the concrete ground, telling me all I need to know. For him, love is a trouble word.
He says, “Someday, you’ll understand, Sarah, but you don’t really love me.”
“You know, you just said the one sentence I hate most in the entire English language,” I tell him. “It is a linguistic cop-out for people who don’t have an answer or don’t want to answer. I understand a lot more than you realize.”
I also liked that in this book parents aren’t given an easy pass. Sarah takes her broken and wounded pieces and hurls them at her father, trying in the only way she knows how, to make him understand how he is letting her down and how he keeps on letting her down.
Sure Signs of Crazy discusses how some things are irreversible and that not all twelve year olds have that ideal life that adults sometimes think they do. What Sarah deals with every day–the isolation, the neglect, the lack of love, warmth, and even properly done laundry–will make you think and perhaps shed a tear. It will make you appreciate your family and perhaps make you understand that the world is made up of different kinds of childhoods–not all of them ideal.
I recommend this novel.
“He is hard, frozen ice cream and I am a weak spoon. What I’ve learned is this: You don’t get much ice cream for all the hard work you put in, and the spoon ends up bent.”