cover image Harry Sue

Harry Sue

Sue Stauffacher, . . Knopf, $15.95 (288pp) ISBN 978-0-375-83274-1

Listen up, Fish." Harry Sue tells her story in "joint jive" she's learned from her quadriplegic best friend's home health aide, an ex-con. She plans to be fluent in "Conglish" ("a combination of joint jive and English," explains the opening glossary) by the time she completes a crime spree that'll land her in prison alongside her drug-dealing mother. Mary Bell went to the slammer seven years earlier, leaving Harry Sue in the care of her racist paternal grandmother. Granny runs a day care for "crumb snatchers," as Harry Sue calls them, a place that's about as loving and reputable as the group home Luther oversees for his mother in Christopher Paul Curtis's Bucking the Sarge . Both books also share Michigan settings and over-the-top, overstuffed plots, in which hilarity goes a long way to offset implausibility. Like Luther, Harry Sue, at 11, is a bit too competent to be believed. When she reads aloud to quadriplegic Homer, it's Kafka. The prison metaphor applies not only to Granny's abode ("You see, Granny and I were locked in a war for control of the joint"), but also to Homer's tree house, which is accessible to others only by a rope. Stauffacher (Donuthead ) juggles many balls in this lengthy, ambitious but briskly paced novel (another subplot involves a Sudanese substitute art teacher who was one of Africa's Lost Boys), and it's a measure of her skill that she very nearly succeeds in keeping them all in the air. Ages 8-12. (June)