Eleven-year-old Harper Lee Morgan loves to write poetry. It’s possibly fate — her mother named her after the author, after all — but she thinks it’s more that she just has words bubbling up inside her that need to come out. And come out they do: her short, observant, often touching poems are interspersed throughout the book.
“Some people like things shiny and crisp
But I tend to like the things with the scraped up edges.
That way I can tell other people have liked them too.
They’ve torn them and spilled on them
or broken off a corner or two
As they went about the important business
Of their day.
Something smooth and straight and new
Has an emptiness about it
Because it hasn’t been important
To anyone yet.”
Her life is full of fodder for poems. See, her Daddy took to drinking and eventually took off for good, leaving her Mamma, herself, and her little brother Hemingway with too many bills and too little money. Eventually, the family gets evicted from their home, and things go from bad to worse, as the family moves to a motel and eventually is kicked out onto the streets.
The word is overused, but this really is a poignant little book: Harper’s full of spunk and spittle, anger and love, hope and disillusionment. The world that she and Hemingway encounter is a harsh one, but it’s not black and white: Leal paints a gray picture. No one is “good,” no one is “bad,” and even the looming idea of social workers coming after them because they aren’t in school isn’t inherently evil. It’s a world where no one is exactly what they seem — whether it be someone who appears to be homeless, or the next-door neighbor girl who is as mean as they come. It’s a world where literature — To Kill a Mockingbird, specifically — provides hope, escape and a place of refuge.
It also provides a glimpse into the plight of the homeless, but does so without being preachy, which isn’t an easy balance to achieve. Above all, it’s a good story about a girl — a family — just trying to find a way to make it all work.
Rated: Mild (some mention of abuse and drunkenness by the main character’s father.)