Harry Sue

Book review by
Matt Berman, Common Sense Media
Harry Sue Book Poster Image
Offbeat, gritty story with heart. OK for older tweens.

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Kids say

age 11+
Based on 1 review

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this book.

Educational Value

Parents and teachers can use this book to explore a wide range of topics, from what it means to be a quadriplegic (like Harry Sue's friend) to who are the Lost Boys of Sudan (one of whom is Harry Sue's art teacher). The publisher's reading guide can point you to a wide range of topics. Our own "Families Can Talk About" section can help kids with some larger media questions.

Positive Messages

Harry Sue suffers a lot in this book, but at the end, she has hope.

Positive Role Models & Representations

Harry Sue wants to harden her heart, but it still shines through, even after all she has endured.


A child is thrown out a window, it's implied that Granny is abusive to her daycare charges, a murder is mentioned, a baby seems to have drowned in a tub, a boy is crippled in an accident, another accident puts Harry Sue in the hospital.


Several mentions of boobs, Harry Sue makes fake breasts, seeing underwear.


Mild expletives such as "crap" and "butt." Also, a glossary is included in the beginning of the book to help readers understand Harry Sue's convict lingo.

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Lots but none of it glamorized: A drunk father, a mother who makes, uses, and sells crystal meth, cocaine is mentioned, teens smoke, toddlers are given cold medicine to keep them quiet, Harry Sue tells a version of Red Riding Hood in which Red drinks, Granny smokes cigars.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that this book includes lots of difficult content -- drugs, child abuse and neglect, incarcerated parents, racism -- but none of it is graphic, and it's mostly told with a certain emotional detachment. Aauthor Sue Stauffacher, who has worked with incarcerated mothers, lifts this gritty story out of the mire with wit, style, and emotion.Harry Sue is a distinct character: She may want to be bad -- and speak in a concvict lingo -- but her heart still shines through.

User Reviews

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Kid, 11 years old April 9, 2008

this book was awesome!!!

i thought this was a realy interesting and strange book. i mean when i read the first 4chapters i told my friends this was one of the strangest books on the mar... Continue reading

What's the story?

Harry Sue is living through the trials of Job: Both of her parents were put in jail after her drunken father threw her out of a seventh floor window and her mother was caught manufacturing crank. She has been sent to live with her vicious and abusive grandmother, who runs a daycare center where Harry Sue tries to protect the toddler inmates. Her best friend was paralyzed in a swimming accident. And Harry Sue wants to commit a crime big enough to get her sent to jail with her mom, while in the meantime learning to talk and act like a "conette." But so far her plans to toughen up and develop "a heart filled with cement and covered in riveted steel" aren't going too well. And just like the heroine of her favorite book (not movie!), The Wizard of Oz, she has a long way to go before she can discover what she always knew. Includes glossary of convict lingo.

Is it any good?

The best fiction elevates the human condition into something transcendent, and this novel is a shining example. Harry Sue is mired in the muck of life: There's nothing cute or pretty or sentimental about her. She deliberately talks like the convict she wants to become and deals with problems no child should face with levelheaded, street-smart common sense, leavened with a broad streak of humor.

But author Sue Stauffacher, who has worked with incarcerated mothers, lifts this gritty story out of the mire with wit, style, and emotion. She's a conette who knows the backstory, and doesn't go for the obvious tears, instead treating terrible events with a light touch and then sucker-punching the reader in unexpected places. The complex tapestry she weaves includes a wealth of intriguing secondary characters. This is a highly original tour de force, one that lingers long in the memory, bears multiple readings, and provides grist for many discussions.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about the difficult content. Is this book appropriate for kids 8-12 like the publisher says? Who would you recommend it for?

  • Also, this book has had two different covers. The one shown on this review is the original -- Do you think it's appropriate for the book? What kind of cover image would you have created for this book?

Book details

Our editors recommend

For kids who love strong girls

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