Reviews for Also Known As Harper

Booklist Reviews 2009 March #1
Things are up and down for fifth-grader Harper Lee Morgan. Her father and his drinking are gone, and her mother is trying to hold the family together, but the rent is past due, and their landlady, Mrs. Early, is out of patience. Harper Lee knows that all too well, thanks to the snide comments of her classmate Winnie Rae Early. Harper is focused on readying her poetry for a school contest, but when her mother loses her job and Harper has to stay home with her younger brother, Hemingway, her hopes for the contest fade away. First-time novelist Leal takes a narrative with familiar elements--the family abandoned by the drunken father, a seemingly hopeless situation redeemed by a hopeful heroine--and elevates it with her characters, who though familiar are sharply and sympathetically drawn. One of the highlights is Harper s poetry, interspersed throughout the book. Although the ideas behind the poems are sometimes sophisticated for a fifth-grader, they are written in a clear and natural way that will speak to readers and make them think. Copyright 2009 Booklist Reviews.

Kirkus Reviews 2009 April #1
Harper Lee Morgan loves nothing more than the tingle of a new poem working itself out in her head. And all she wants is to win the poetry contest at school. However, after her father abandons the family, Harper, her mother and her younger brother, Hemingway, get evicted from their apartment and must finally settle themselves in an abandoned drive-in movie projector house. Harper, charged with taking care of Hem while her mother works, cannot make it back to school in time for the contest. Luckily, she and Hem find some friends who help guide them through their transition to homelessness and who ultimately help them into a new, albeit temporary, home. Meanwhile, Harper learns some important lessons on the meaning of home and family, and she comes to know that, when her poetry is concerned, the right audience trumps a big crowd every time. Occasionally oversentimental, but the likable characters, their misfortunes and especially their self-reliance will keep readers, particularly fans of the Boxcar Children and other such fare, enthralled. A poignant debut. (Fiction. 10-14) Copyright Kirkus 2009 Kirkus/BPI Communications.All rights reserved.

Publishers Weekly Reviews 2009 May #4

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)

[Page 58]. Copyright 2009 Reed Business Information.

School Library Journal Reviews 2009 June

Gr 4-6--Fifth-grader Harper Lee Morgan has a lot on her mind. Her father left a year ago, her mother has fallen behind on the rent, and her five-year-old brother waits every day on the porch for his father's return. A talented writer, she desperately wants to enter an upcoming poetry contest. All of her worries can be forgotten when she is writing poetry or her mother is reading To Kill a Mockingbird to her and Hem. Then her family is evicted and they move to a local motel, where the children meet Lorraine and Randall Kelley, who live in a nearby tent encampment with their mother. Lorraine hasn't spoken since a fire destroyed her family's apartment. Hem and Harper meet Lorraine and Randall's friend Dorothy, an elderly widow who once owned the land that the motel is on and still lives in a cabin behind it. It is through these friendships that Harper discovers what really is important to her--poetry, family, friends, and the home you make with them. This is a timely tale of families on the edge with no fathers in sight, mothers struggling to keep it together, and the difficulties of recovering once you hit bottom. But the power of words--whether in poetry or a favorite book--to soothe, make things better, and give a new perspective is always there. Memorable characterizations fill the book with realistic individuals whom readers will root for and celebrate with when their lives finally begin to improve.--Terrie Dorio, Santa Monica Public Library, CA

[Page 128]. Copyright 2008 Reed Business Information.

VOYA Reviews 2009 June
Once words start forming in Harper Lee Morgan's head, she must write them down. Her poems would win the poetry contest if only she were at school to submit them. Since her daddy got into whiskey and abandoned them, her mother has been trying unsuccessfully to make ends meet. Now evicted from their rental house, the family is living in a motel room and Harper must forgo school to babysit her brother while her mother works. They befriend Randall and his older sister, Lorraine, who has lost the ability to speak. Their home is part of a tent city behind the motel. At first Harper is wary of wheelchair-riding Dorothy with her bag-lady appearance, but her kindness wins over Harper. Dorothy's untimely death forces Lorraine to speak and then leads to temporary shelter and hope for Harper and her family Dispelling stereotypical judgments about the homeless, this tender story also brings heart-wrenching insight into their plight. Harper's family might never have become desperate had not the death of baby Flannery propelled their father into alcoholism. For Dorothy, a former college professor, it was a tragic car accident. Rather than laziness, the fickle finger of fate has determined their addresses. From Harper to Winnie Rae Early, the characters are memorable as are the descriptive passages--picture their batik tent city. Most touching are Harper's pithy poems that expose the raw emotions of a bright but disadvantaged girl. This book is rich with discussion opportunity for middle school students.--Barbara Johnston 4Q 3P M J Copyright 2009 Voya Reviews.