Tuesday, May 26, 2009

ALSO KNOWN AS HARPER by Ann Haywood Leal

Harper Lee Morgan was named after the author of her mother's favorite book, TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD. She has grown up hearing her mother read the book aloud - 36 times in fact if the tally marks on the kitchen wall are accurate.

For a while it's just been Harper, her mother, and her little brother Hemingway (Hem), at least since her father up and left them. They used to be a happy family. They didn't have a lot, but they loved each other and made do. But after baby Flannery died, things were never quite the same.

Harper loves school and is determined that this year she will participate in the local poetry contest. Writing poetry is like breathing for Harper. She dreams of getting up in front of the crowd and reading her poems into the microphone for all to hear. Just when she thinks this year it will be possible, the landlady throws all their belongings out into the front yard. She says they are way behind in their rent, and she has more reliable tenants waiting in line.

Moving isn't unusual. Since her father left and her mother has been working whatever jobs she can to make ends meet, they've had to do without, but moving into a rundown, nearby motel changes everything. Harper has to stay in their room and keep an eye on Hem while her mother looks for work. That means no school and probably no poetry contest.

It seems like the end of the world until Harper gets acquainted with the other folks who live in and around the motel. There's Randall and his sister Lorraine. Lorraine stopped talking a while back. She may be quiet, but she's awfully nice. Harper is surprised when she learns they don't actually live at the motel, but instead in a make-shift tent community hidden beyond the Knotty Pine Luxury Cabins.

Harper and Hem also become fast friends with Dorothy, a woman in a wheelchair who owns the property around the motel. She is the original Pine of the Knotty Pine Luxury Cabins and knew them when there were comfy little separate cabins and not a bunch of rundown motel rooms all hooked together.

The life that Harper leads would wear most people down, scraping by with a few changes of clothes, occasional hot showers, and living mostly off of peanut butter sandwiches. However, Harper has always made the best of things, and with the love of her mother and brother and her new friends, she seems to keep her chin up and keep a positive view of the world.

Ann Haywood Leal's novel illustrates the fate of far too many people in today's society. Far too many families are working hard but never finding a way to get ahead. Harper's determination and creativity help this family carry on through the toughest of times.

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