Harriet has just moved to Chicago and her parents are too busy with their new jobs to help her adjust to her new life. Lonely and frustrated, Harriet waits for replies from her camp friends and struggles to get through her summer reading. As she develops a relationship with her elderly neighbor Pearl, Harriet learns to confront her fears and adjust to her new situation.
Sincerely, Harriet is a quiet, tender story featuring a young girl struggling with loneliness and her own burdens. At first glance, the story seems crafted from scenes that don’t fully connect, but a closer reading shows an arc full of love and growth. Although Harriet is passionate about stories and friendship, she often comes across sullen and difficult because she lies in her postcards to camp friends and makes up tall tales about strangers and acquaintances. Because she is frequently seen doing solitary and sedentary pastimes, the story’s pacing can be slow. The character arc is also not straightforward because readers do not immediately understand the cause of Harriet’s behavior. However, Searle sprinkles in little details that hint at Harriet’s inner life and her struggles, and patient and observant readers will be rewarded with a thoughtful and engaging tale.
Searle’s appealing artwork draws in readers. The art brings Harriet and her world to life with colorful illustrations, and Searle excels at conveying Harriet and other characters’ emotions. Additionally, Seale uses the illustrations to reveal little details that clarify some aspects of the story and foreshadow others.
A strength of this work is the sensitive way Searle portrays living with a disability. Searle’s gradually reveals that Harriet has multiple sclerosis. This portrayal is a quiet and sensitive way of handling disability that realistically balances its impact with the fact that multiple sclerosis is only a part of her experience and identity. Searle’s decision does affect the story’s pacing, but this is a way of handling disability that should hold appeal.
Another strength lies in Harriet’s relationships with her parents and her neighbor Pearl. Harriet’s habit of lying puts her at odds with the people in her life, but she is also surrounded by people who care about her. Searle effectively shows the depth of Harriet’s relationship with her parents through their actions toward one another, and she uses Pearl’s discussions of books and her family to build Harriet’s relationship with her elderly neighbor. Harriet’s growing relationship with Pearl is a major catalyst for her character growth; she begins to step back from her usual actions and be more open.
Despite its slow pacing, Sincerely, Harriet is a well-crafted story that will hold appeal for readers looking for a warm coming of age story. Public libraries looking to include more stories about disability in their collections would do well to consider this one. Graphic Universe recommends this work for ages nine to fourteen. The subtle portrayal of certain details and slower pacing probably limits it to mature readers in that age range, yet the quiet, subtle storytelling and illustrations would also appeal to readers older than fourteen.
By Sarah W. Searle
Graphic Universe, 2019
Publisher Age Rating: Grades 4-8 (ages 9-14)
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Character Traits: Characters Ability, Mexican American, Multiracial