Sundays Are For Reading - Harbor Me

In Harbor Me, Ms Laverne leads a group of six 12 year-olds into a repurposed art room or the ARTT room — A Room to Talk. Away from the eyes and ears of schoolmates and adults, this class of ‘special’ students make space for one another, learning and growing from the things they talk about. Written by Newbery Honor-winning author Jacqueline Woodson, this lyrical story tackles difficult subjects with a sure and steady hand.

At its core, the action in Harbor Me revolves largely around six kids talking to one another. While conversation does at times veer towards superheroes and the latest must-have sneakers, the vast majority of the book (which is set in the USA) devotes time for the six primary characters to discuss all sorts of things whether it’s learning at different speeds or deep societal issues and scars.

The ARTT room acts as a safe space and respite for the kids — a ‘harbour’, as mentioned in the title. Yet a harbour is also a place of comings and goings, and the ARTT room is also a place of transience. Not only does the question of when Esteban might leave to join his deported father loom over the story, but time itself will see the ARTT room kids in different places when a new school year begins.

This fact is allayed somewhat when first person narrator Haley receives a voice recorder. The voice recorder turns the conversations of the ARTT room kids into something worthy of archival, prompting each character to choose the things they talk about with greater deliberation.

For the benefit of the voice recorder, each child offers up personal experiences: the poetry that Esteban’s father sends to his family, alongside Amari’s deep hurt at learning why it’s dangerous for a black boy to play with toy guns, and how older students bully Ashton for his different, paler skin. These selected experiences sometimes drive friction within the group, but by talking through the group also comes to better understand and accept one another.

Similarly, the narrative cherrypicks the most important moments of ARTT room discussions, grouping chapters like photographic snapshots arrayed by atmosphere — while some chapters follow a chronological timeline, others are grouped by theme — to form a compelling emotional arc across this cathartic read. 

Harbor Me is book of diverse voices, tackling diverse contemporary subjects. Through the device of archival voice recorder, characters can revisit important and resonant conversations — just as readers will find new ways and values in the narrative on a second read. Recommended for ages 11 and up.

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