cover image Also Known as Harper

Also Known as Harper

Ann Haywood Leal, . . Holt, $16.95 (246pp) ISBN 978-0-8050-8881-6

Named after the author of To Kill a Mockingbird , fifth-grader Harper Lee Morgan defines herself as a poet: “That name has soaked itself into my bones,” she writes. After her father runs off (“The whiskey got in and made angry puddles in his brain”), Harper, her mother and her younger brother, Hemingway (Hem), are evicted, and they move into a motel. With her mom physically exhausted from working day and night (and emotionally fragile as a result of Harper's stillborn baby sister, Flannery), Harper is forced to stay at the motel with Hem all day and risks missing her favorite part of the school year: the poetry contest. At the motel, she meets myriad characters, who give her plenty of material for her poems. First-time novelist Leal creates complex characters from various walks of life, though the delivery of the message “that people aren't always what they seem from the outside” occasionally feels heavy-handed. The cards are stacked against Harper and her family, but it is inspiring to watch her find success with a pen, paper and a little hope. Ages 10–up. (May)