Sure Signs of Crazy

Common Sense Media says

Unforgettable story of girl moving beyond her tragic past.





What parents need to know

Educational value
Sarah's letters to Atticus Finch will surely motivate readers to seek out To Kill a Mockingbird -- both book and film. Sarah loves words, and definitions for several of her newly discovered words are peppered throughout the book.
Positive messages
Sarah has grown accustomed to being treated as a victim, but she redefines herself on her own terms. She's a great example of the extraordinary courage on a very personal scale, from confronting her father about his drinking to boldly proclaiming her feelings for an older boy. Despite her isolation, she's keenly aware of the people around her. Her concern for a neighbor leads to a very important relationship for both of them. 
Positive role models
Charlotte and Finn treat Sarah with respect and compassion. Finn offers much-needed friendship to Sarah when she's in need. Sarah's father is often disappointing, but he agrees to enter rehab and shows a willingness to try to change their lives for the better. A teacher's kindness toward Sarah reverberates throughout the story. 
Sarah was nearly drowned as a toddler by her mother, who killed her twin. Another character relates that his father committed suicide. Sarah sees a young man get overly aggressive on a date with her friend, whose brother physically intervenes. 
Sarah is intrigued but naive about sex. She's half-heartedly on a mission to be French-kissed over the summer, as part of a pact made with a friend following a "boy party" they planned. She's fascinated with romance novels, and is curious to understand romantic love and sexual relationships. She gets her period and turns to an older friend to help her get supplies. There's a funny reference to woman with "pendulous boobs." A peripheral character is bullied online with accusations that he's gay.
A few coarse words include "sucks," "boobs," "heck," and "jerk," and a few times the narrator refers to curse words that rhyme with something less offensive. 
Pop culture and brand references include Claire's, Walgreens, iPod, Coke, M&Ms, Gatorade, Pop-Tarts, Chuck E. Cheese, Dairy Queen, Harry Potter, Weather Channel, Facebook, Jim Beam, Dr. Pepper, Pepto-Bismol, Funyuns, Google, FedEx, Cokes, Taco Bell, CVS, Good Housekeeping, Jell-O, TicTac, Sonic, Beatles, Bob Seger, and Dreamsicles.
Drinking, drugs, & smoking
Sarah lies to a friend and claims that she's smoked cigarettes. Her father has a serious drinking problem that interferes with his ability to parent.

Parents Need to Know

Parents need to know that Sure Signs of Crazy is written from the perspective of a 12-year-old girl whose mentally ill mother killed her twin brother and tried to kill her when they were toddlers. Sarah's father is an alcoholic who means well but can only be counted on to let her down. Sarah snoops, lies, and steals, but not maliciously. She develops a crush on her 19-year-old neighbor and discovers romance novels. She gets her period and is coached by a college student on getting supplies and managing the discomfort.

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Kids say

What's the story?

The summer she turns 12, Sarah Nelson is still defined by her tragic past: Her mother, Jane, is prison for drowning her twin brother and trying to kill Sarah when the siblings were 2. Her alcoholic father relocates Sarah whenever the locals discover who they are. Lonely and secretive, Sarah has two diaries -- one real, one fake -- and writes letters to Atticus Finch, the lawyer dad in To Kill a Mockingbird. Her best friend is a plant, and she's worried she'll end up crazy like her mom. Sarah wants this summer to be different: She wants to fall in love, understand what the big deal is about kissing, be acknowledged as her own person, and have friends. To do that, she decides, requires confronting the person who changed everything: her mom.

Is it any good?

Much like Scout in To Kill a Mockingbird, Sarah is a precocious, charming misfit trying to understand an often disappointing world. In SURE SIGNS OF CRAZY, Karen Harrington tips her hat to Harper Lee's classic while creating her own memorable heroine. It's a heartrending story that manages to avoid sentimentality. In many ways Sarah's a typical preteen: She's obsessed with piercing her ears and wants to be cool and sophisticated, and to fall in love, whatever that really means. Though she's clever and wise beyond her years, she's just as awkward and insecure as the next 12-year-old. It's a winning combination of empathy, tragedy, heroism, and humor -- an unforgettable read.

Families can talk about...

  • Families can talk about Sarah's letters to Atticus Finch. What fictional character would you want to write to? Try writing a few letters to the character you've chosen.
  • The author wrote a book for adults about the same family, focusing on Sarah's mother's crime. Parents might want to read that book and talk with their children about how they view the story from that perspective.
  • How would this story play out told from yet another perspective -- maybe Finn's, or Grandma's?

Book details

Author:Karen Harrington
Genre:Coming of Age
Topics:Friendship, Great girl role models, Misfits and underdogs
Book type:Fiction
Publisher:Little, Brown Books for Young Readers
Publication date:August 20, 2013
Number of pages:288
Publisher's recommended age(s):9 - 12
Read aloud:9 - 12
Read alone:9 - 12
Available on:Hardback, iBooks, Kindle, Nook

This review of Sure Signs of Crazy was written by

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  • ON: Content is age-appropriate for kids this age.
  • PAUSE: Know your child; some content may not be right for some kids.
  • OFF: Not age-appropriate for kids this age.
  • NOT FOR KIDS: Not appropriate for kids of any age.

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Learning ratings

  • Best: Really engaging; great learning approach.
  • Very Good: Engaging; good learning approach.
  • Good: Pretty engaging; good learning approach.
  • Fair: Somewhat engaging; OK learning approach.
  • Not for Learning: Not recommended for learning.
  • Not for Kids: Not age-appropriate for kids; not recommended for learning.

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Kid, 10 years old March 30, 2014


I absolutely loved this book. It made me laugh and cry at the same time. Sarah is such a great and interesting character trying to deal with all these problems. And she sets of on this journey to make her summer unforgettable.
What other families should know
Educational value
Great messages
Great role models
Too much sex


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