In Sincerely, Harriet by Sarah W. Searle, Harriet is spending the summer getting used to her family’s new apartment in Chicago. It’s hot and boring, with her parents working hard at new jobs and the girls from last year’s summer camp ignoring her postcards.
The only person she interacts with is the older woman downstairs. Pearl owns the building and tells tales of her family. Pearl was also a librarian, and she recommends books to Harriet that interest her more than her assigned reading. Harriet is “tired of books with boring girl characters who don’t get to do anything,” a modern reaction to some of the titles that are classics because of age.
In addition to being lonely, Harriet has a chronic illness that makes her feel even more set apart. Harriet’s also imaginative, coming up with exaggerated explanations for other people’s behavior, which dismays her parents. To redirect her, they and Pearl encourage her to find books that inspire and challenge her and to start writing her own stories.
The pastel colors and rounded character designs are softly welcoming (and more comfortable than the Chicago summer heat), while the panels without backgrounds put focus on the characters’ reactions. Searle’s unique style of underlining her character’s eyes with a thin row of eyelashes draws attention to them, often giving them an air of alertness.
Searle’s storytelling is deliberately paced, which makes the reader feel Harriet’s aimlessness. Sincerely, Harriet isn’t a book to instantly fall in love with. It’s one that quietly paints a picture of an uncertain young woman whom many readers will sympathize with. She’s struggling with her own body, with knowing her own mind and heart, and not yet having anything to drive her forward in life.
The book rewards re-reading, particularly once one knows about Harriet’s challenges and can better understand some of the earlier events of the story. An author’s note provides more information on invisible disabilities. (Review originally posted at Good Comics for Kids.)