Moving away from home and starting a new school are big enough events, but Harriet also has something else to contend with: a diagnosis of multiple sclerosis. Dealing with her chronic illness, a scorching hot summer in Chicago, and longing for her friends from summer camp, there’s a lot to discover for the titular character of Sincerely, Harriet.
Published: 7 May 2019
Publisher: Graphic Universe
Category: Middle Grade/Graphic Novels
Harriet Flores struggles with boredom and an unrequited crush while learning to manage her chronic illness through a long, hot, 1990s summer in Chicago. She uses her imagination to cope, which sometimes gets her into trouble, as she makes up fantastical fibs and wonders if there are ghosts upstairs. One neighbor, Pearl, encourages Harriet to read and write, leading Harriet to have a breakthrough and discover the power of storytelling.
Rating: 4 Stars
Harriet’s summer has been trying, what with moving to a new state, figuring out her feelings regarding her M.S. diagnosis and the symptoms, plus being mostly alone all day as her parents work hard at difficult and/or multiple jobs. Her imagination runs wild at times, making up stories about the mailman, the landlady/neighbor downstairs, and the possibilities of a haunted third floor.
Telling tall tales is something that might be familiar to middle grade readers. Harriet shares this trait with another Harriet in literature (Harriet the Spy). Fans of Louise Fitzhugh’s novel may well find themselves entertained with this graphic novel. Harriet of Sincerely also finds comfort in writing, although her attempts are in postcards that include a fantasy life in Chicago and letters to a fictional version of her landlady Pearl’s son, Nicholas.
The letters to Nicholas, Harriet’s exploration of the third floor (where Nicholas stayed while ill and in quarantine), and some panels along the way help to tell a story of chronic illness across not only generations, but across race lines as well. Harriet is a young Latinx girl whose parents are taking her to the best doctors they can find. Nicholas is an African-American boy who grew up in the 1950’s and contracted polio. There’s more about what that might have been like, such as segregated medical care, in the author’s note, but in the text itself there are glimpses of what Harriet and Nicholas have in common, such as the use of a wheelchair as necessary and isolation from friends/potential friends.
Reading the book was very pleasant. The writing flowed very well and kept my interest along the way. The emotional moments were conveyed, at times, fairly quickly and without as much discussion as I’d have liked, but they were still strong. Art wise, the look of the graphic novel was skillful and suited nicely to the narrative, although I thought that there were some issues pertaining to details that looked a bit off.
I’d recommend this book for people looking for stories about dealing with chronic illnesses as well as good stories involving figuring out one’s place in a new neighborhood. Harriet had her difficulties, but I liked her, even when those around her were criticizing her exaggerations. Figuring out her feelings regarding her M.S., figuring out how to deal with friends that aren’t replying to postcards, all of this figuring was intense, but her strength showed through. She’s a good heroine that should have her story shared and enjoyed, hopefully by many age groups (it’s that good).
I received a copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. Quotes included are from an advanced reader copy and may not reflect the finalized copy.
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