Friday, March 11, 2011

Review: Mick Harte Was Here by Barbara Park

Reviewed by Liesl

Published: 1996

It's about: "I don't want to make you cry. I just want to tell you about Mick. But I thought you should know right up front that he's not here anymore. I just thought that would be fair."

A short novella about Phoebe Harte, whose brother Mick died in a bike accident. Throughout the book she weaves anecdotes and current events together, telling stories of her endearing brother Mick while also sharing of how she, her family and friends deal with his death.

I thought: I first read this in 6th grade and was immediately touched. I've read it multiple times ever since, and every time I read it, it still has that same effect on me it had when I first read it.

I love Phoebe's voice. Phoebe's straightforward tone dominates the narration as she discusses the events of his death and what happened after. The stories she includes in between are pricless, like of how she and Mick scratched the letters F-A-R-T into the driveway next to their house. You get a sense of Mick's sense of humor and the things he did. Like how on Halloween he dressed up as Thomas Crapper, or another year he dressed up as Henry VIII and superglued a beard to his face. He's a fun guy that you just want to get to know, and you feel Phoebe's grief when you realize he's gone.

For every situation, there's a story about Mick. Like when he gets cremated, Phoebe shares the story of how he decided to be cremated. Or there's one about his love for his pet dog, Wocket. And with each of these stories, there's humor. I laughed when I saw how Mick goes crazy over flies and whacks at them with his flip flops, even if it means accidentally hitting the neighbor. Another story is of how Mick had a cigar that said "It's a girl!" on it, but he thought it meant the cigar was a girl and named it Helen. Even at the times of Phoebe's grief, she would still tell stories about him that made me laugh.

The book illustrates how Phoebe and her parents deal with Mick's death. Phoebe feels guilt over her brother's death and becomes more cynical about people around her. In one scene she tells off her school principal for calling Mick's death a "loss" when in reality, Mick is gone. He will never be found. She deals with it better than her parents do, but she fights with her parents for not understanding that she needs to talk about Mick. In one poignant scene, however, she realizes the grief her parents must be going through as they drive to the church for the memorial service:

"Mom was sitting right in front of me. I stared at the back of her head and wondered why I'd never noticed the strands of gray that were mixed in with her dark brown hair. Then suddenly it dawned on me that the reason I hadn't seen them before was because they'd never been there before. And it made me feel so sick with sympathy I reached out and touched her hair. 

As soon as my mother felt my fingers, she put her hand over mine. Then with her other hand, she reached for Pop. And that's how we rode the rest of the way to church. Connected like a family chain, sort of. With one link missing."

Having experienced death with relatives and friends my age, this book spoke to me. Phoebe's voice was so engaging, it felt like I was there with her, holding her hand the entire way. I adore this book. I can't force you to love it, but it brought me comfort in my own grief and I will never forget it for that.

Verdict: Stick it on the shelf.

Reading Recommendations: It's only 89 pages. A breeze, really.

Warnings: Swears. Also says "sucks."

Favorite excerpts: "It sounds morbid. I know it does. But all I wanted to do was feel close to my brother. And so in my mind, I wasn't running to the place he had died. I was just running to the last place he had been.

Someone had placed a flower there.

I started crying then. Not loud, I don't mean. There were just some tears.

I brushed them away with the back of my hand. And without taking my eyes off the flower, I slowly sat down on the curb.

It was after dark when I finally got up and headed back home."

"I think that's when it first hit me that we were in way over our heads on this one. This was one of those tragedies that needed a family that knew what it was doing. Like the Kennedys or the Queen of England and her whole bunch.
     Not a family like ours that comes unglued if someone doesn't follow the morning bathroom schedule."

"She came into the room then. It must have been unbelievably hard for her to do that. But she came in, and sat down on the edge of his bed.
     I made a place for her next to me on Mick's pillow. But for the longest time Mom just sat there. Stroking her fingers lightly over his bedspread.
    Then at last she lay down beside me and gently brushed the hair from my eyes. 'Tell me some more about your dream,' she whispered.

     I told her that dogs can laugh in heaven."

What I'm reading next: The Mortal Instruments series